That Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards for more than two years deliberately misled the public and legislators concerning the death of black motorist Ronald Greene, even as early on it might have served his 2019 reelection campaign this also explains his general behavior since and signals what may come on an important issue.
With last week’s revelations that almost immediately after Greene’s death Edwards knew he died not in an accident but while in Louisiana State Police custody, it became clear Edwards had engaged in a pattern of deceit. Despite being inconceivable that Edwards didn’t know inappropriate use of force was the primary cause of Greene’s death as the incident triggered media reports, various investigations, and personnel actions by the LSP of which he would have been aware, he continued asserting the fiction through public fora and to lawmakers even until recently.
Knowing this makes Edwards’ actions since May 10, 2019 much more understandable. Strategic inaction on his part right after the incident when in the midst of a bruising campaign, if not a deliberate effort to keep himself ignorant of developments as the initial LSP story quickly became challenged and began to unravel prevented publicity adding to alleged sporadic LSP misconduct against blacks on his watch that critics could highlight as a failing of his tenure.
Had Edwards been made of sterner stuff, he wouldn’t have dispensed with the honor code of his alma mater that “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do” when it became inconvenient. If not hours after receiving the communique, then certainly days later when the Greene family alerted the media to earwitness testimony contradicting the LSP story, he publicly should have pledged a full and transparent investigation into why Greene died in custody. And he continues to thwart legal public records requests into the incident.
Simultaneously throughout his second term, Edwards increasingly has acted disengaged. For someone as arrogant and ambitious as he, analysts figured he wouldn’t voluntarily end his political career quietly. Yet he indicated relatively early on he had no plans for another elective office and seemed more interested in trying to latch onto the Democrat Pres. Joe Biden Administration.
We know now this likely came about as a consequence of the bubbling Greene incident scandal. In 2019, Edwards likely hoped it would come to nothing, but when into 2020 controversies arose about violence surrounding other blacks under arrest that raised the profile of such incidents in Louisiana, just after the Greene family launched a suit against the state it probably dawned on him that one day the truth about his unflattering actions would come out, making him unelectable in an environment where he would be an underdog to win in any event. His best chance lay in escape to the Biden Administration prior to that, but that never manifested and with these revelations that hope now is dead.
Also explained is the more stridently woke and leftist attitude he portrayed starting last year. Edwards sold himself to voters under the time-honored Democrat strategy that if you could convince them you were a social conservative, enough of them who were skeptical of big government would overlook that aspect of his agenda. But in 2021 he went full-on woke by threatening to veto a bill to prevent harm to children, and actually vetoed ones that prohibited discrimination against female athletes on account of biology and carrying concealed firearms without need of a permit – poisonous actions for someone running for statewide office in Louisiana, although attractive to the Biden Administration. Again, in light of him knowing what he knew when and eventually realizing the inevitability it would come out, Edwards felt freer to thine own self be true by these actions since he understood his elective career would be finished in any event by future revelations.
However, timing of the revelations has impacted the next big issue facing Edwards and the state: reapportionment. Already thin on political capital, Edwards hasn’t firmly backed using the leverage of his veto power to ensure that the state draws – even if likely producing an unconstitutional result – two majority/minority districts for Congress. This makes sense if you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, especially since you know you have a losing hand as ultimately the Constitution ensures the majority Republican Legislature aided by a majority Republican Supreme Court will get whatever way it wants.
But with the other shoe dropping, the dynamics have shifted. With more of his political capital now going up the road, there’s no need to play it quietly. Subtlety no longer gets the best deals on congressional, legislative, and potentially other map redraws, as brashness becomes more likely to succeed as capital dwindles. Plus, Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus members gave him an earful about the ongoing Greene scandal, so he will want to placate them. As a result he may become much more publicly pugnacious and strident in supporting added M/M districts for several mapping exercises.
If so, this will drag out the process considerably as the escalated conflict plays through the system – which is perhaps what Edwards wants, because as long as he can cast himself not as the get-along-go-along guy who went along with an LSP coverup but as a crusader for minority representation, the more black legislators and party insiders will rally around him and fight to keep him from impeachment or to give hm moral support in resisting calls to resign. As he scrambles to save his job and tries to entice history to paint him as a champion of minorities, not as the enabler of police misconduct against them, expect him to become the source of more political contention.