Analysis: No End In Sight To Feud Between Edwards, Landry

BATON ROUGE (AP) — In the continuing feud between Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry, the two men keep trading wins and losses.

         The lack of decisive — and permanent — victories for either ensures the remaining three years of the term will continue to be a politically charged clash between the statewide elected officials, with state business often stymied or slowed by the impasses.

         Louisiana hasn't seen an attorney general really test the boundaries of his office in years, and governors rarely get challenged in the state, which has a strong history of deference to its top elected leader. Those political situations appear to be changing with Edwards and Landry.

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         Both men have personalities that suggest they'll embrace the fights, or at least won't back down as they escalate.

         Lawmakers often caught in the middle already seem to have grown weary of the near-perpetual disagreements over everything from finances to legal cases.

         "We've got three-and-a-half more years to deal with each other. Do you really need legislators like me to come sit in a room and be referees?" Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, asked in a recent budget dispute between the Edwards administration and Landry.

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         That fight over funding was resolved when the governor and the attorney general simply sat down and talked to each other. But that compromise has proven to be rare between the two elected officials.

         Whether simply the natural clash of people with strikingly different political philosophies, the overreach of a governor or the politically motivated decisions of an attorney general considering the 2019 governor's race, the battles only appear to be escalating.

         Edwards won the dispute over whether Landry could get his own separate budget bill with more freedom from the governor's oversight. The Senate killed that idea. And the governor largely won again in disagreements over the direction of oil spill recovery money, when again senators refused to comply with the wishes of the attorney general.

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         Since then, the two offices remain in a stalemate over Edwards' attempt to hire one of his close political allies to represent Louisiana in litigation against oil and gas companies over coastal land loss. Landry, who opposes further litigation on the issue, has refused to sign off on the contract, citing concerns about the fee arrangement.

         In the first dispute to go to court, Landry was the victor last week. And another court skirmish now looms.

         At issue is Edwards' order banning discrimination in state government against LGBT people, a hot-button issue that could win or lose votes for the governor and the attorney general — and that draws attention nationally.

         Edwards issued the order in April, prohibiting discrimination in government and state contracts based on sexual orientation and gender identity, with an exception for contractors that are religious organizations.

         In May, Landry issued a response, a legal opinion saying the order has "no binding legal effect" because it seeks to establish a new protected class of people that doesn't exist in law and that lawmakers have refused to add.

         Since then, the attorney general's office has blocked dozens of contracts to let state agencies hire outside lawyers that contain the anti-discrimination clause.

         Edwards sued over the attorney general's refusal to approve the legal contracts. He lost the skirmish. A state district court judge in Baton Rouge ruled against Edwards last week, suggesting the attorney general has discretion in how his office reviews the legal contracts. The governor is deciding how to proceed legally on that front.

         But the judge wasn't asked about and didn't rule on whether the governor's executive order is legal — so a few days after winning in court, Landry decided to embrace another fight, this one challenging Edwards' executive order as unconstitutional and exceeding the governor's authority.

         A different Baton Rouge judge will decide the latest lawsuit, with the attorney general seeking a ban on the Edwards administration from enforcing the order.

         Meanwhile, dozens of legal contracts remain in limbo for state agencies, boards and commissions. And a new dispute over some as yet unseen issue likely looms.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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