Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, like last year, has thrown down the gauntlet. But this time, it might get thrown back at him, and then some.
A few days ago, Edwards released his latest round of vetoes for bills from the recently-concluded regular session of the Legislature. That brought the total to 23 – all but one by Republicans with the remaining one innocuous in nature but done against no party state Rep. Roy Daryl Adams as payback for voting to override the Edwards veto of the state’s reapportioned congressional districts – meaning that before the deadline for veto issuance that comes by the end of the month, the number may surpass last year’s 31.
The past two years have ticked higher in number because Edwards lost much control over the Legislature after 2019 elections and the increasing ideological drift to the left his policy-making has exhibited since after that election he could no longer run for reelection. 2020 didn’t feature much discord because practical issues surrounding combatting the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic dominated proceedings, but since then the Republican majorities in each chamber haven’t been shy about legislating their preferences, with the occasional help of dissenting Democrats or no party/independent members, that stand inimically opposed to his.
Thus, among the current struck bills are a couple of items strengthening election security similar to those he vetoed last year, others related to emergency powers of the governor that would mandate greater oversight and ensure personal bodily autonomy or in behavior that doesn’t dilute state emergency dictates, bills he considered reversals of his criminal justice initiative that overall has failed to save money but would have closed loopholes with unintended consequences that reduced disincentives for criminal behavior, a pair that increased educational opportunities outside of the one-size-fits-all model of public education, and, akin to his treatment of the Adams bill, items forwarded by legislators that he feels slighted by with their votes and rhetoric.
Perhaps the bills with the poorest excuses given in veto messages that are the most transparently political and half-baked concerns those of educational choice and election integrity. HB 194 by Republican state Rep. Rhonda Butler would have diverted the state share of per pupil expenses from a local education agency to another education provider – while allowing the public school to retain its local funding for that student, thus increasing per capita spending – for students with disabilities that a family found suitable as a way to better meet a child’s needs. Yet mean-spiritedly Edwards vetoed it, alleging, despite the very wording of the bill, that it would divert funds from public schools, supposedly favored “wealthy” families even though the bill made no distinction (and he obviously has no idea of the enormous expenses families with children with disabilities face), and brought up bogus imaginary accountability issues related to other state-sponsored voucher programs – all because he is joined at the hip with teacher unions and education bureaucrats and wants to negate any threat to their power and privilege, even at the expense of children with disabilities.
That disgusting and nakedly political response is nearly matched by his response to HB 35 by GOP state Rep. Les Farnum. This would create an additional canvass of voters each year at close to no expense. Yet Edwards vetoed it (again), giving the Twilight Zone explanation that it would “make it easier to remove eligible voters from the rolls” even though it follows existing law in terms of eligibility and would remove only ineligible voters by law, such is his zeal to make up anything that could justify an obvious move to dampen security.
However, last year his widespread rejection of bills prompted a historic counterreaction when the chambers called the first-ever veto session. Several of these narrowly missed securing overrides, and then this spring with the reapportionment bill again legislators summoned themselves into a veto session and succeeded on that bill, another new first.
Now that they have become accustomed to chastening a governor, it’s more likely than ever not only will legislators convene a veto session next month, but they’ll score several successes. The previous efforts have exposed Edwards’ diminished power over them, and, using the Butler and Farnum bills as examples, many of the vetoed bills faced insufficient resistance, if any, to prevent the supermajorities necessary to override. Already he backed down on a couple of controversial bills knowing a veto couldn’t survive, but he has no choice but to forge ahead on lesser-known ones because if he doesn’t try, he abrogates most of his influence.
Yet in choosing so many targets, he only encourages the calling of a veto session and multiple successful overrides, largely because Republicans flooded the zone sensing their superior power, that would have the same ultimate impact of making him a policy-making nonentity. It’s a risk he has to take, as it’s better to go down fighting than to surrender.