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Monday, 19 December 2016 12:03
Louisiana Governor Edwards cannot afford political baggage
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EDWARDS PRESS2Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards threw overboard outgoing Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Charlie Melancon because the latter’s use as a political instrument became too costly to the former’s political future.

Last week, Edwards announced the departure of Melancon after less than a year on the job. Melancon later clarified, saying he had been dismissed but would stay on the job until completion of an audit of past agency practices.

Melancon’s stormy tenure included shilling for national Democrat interests in fisheries policy against the will of all other Gulf states and congressional majorities, aligning himself with commercial fishing interests against recreational users, firing an apparent whistleblower that came forward concerning unseemly management practices that earned him a lawsuit, and feuding with the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, the other part of the duopoly that runs the department. The audit also had overtones of politicization, perhaps as a method to subjugate the agency and Commission that clearly have resisted Edwards’ influence in the department.

Melancon, a lobbyist before serving three terms in Congress, had no expertise in the area and his appointment appeared to throw a bone to the old wing of state Democrats, with whom Edwards aligned himself and includes the likes of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and recently defeated Senate candidate Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell. They compete against the state’s nationally-oriented Democrats, who include former Sen. Mary Landrieu, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, former Senate candidate and lawyer Caroline Fayard, and party chief and state Sen. Karen Peterson.

But he loyally carried out Edwards’ dictates, with resisting turning over the management of red snapper to Gulf states perhaps the most important. In saying he opposed the move on the allegation that it would cost the state money – when in fact a funding stream for that purpose already exists – this backed Edwards’ desire generally to increase taxation. That also placated leftist special interests allied on this issue with commercial interests.

However, as Melancon continued to wage what seemed almost an intentional war on recreational fishers – his last move seeking to abolish several popular programs relying upon volunteer efforts by anglers that provided much helpful data to the state at next to no cost – he began to raise the ire of Republican Rep. Garret Graves, the former head of Louisiana’s coastal restoration efforts and perhaps the most knowledgeable member of Congress on coastal issues. Graves, who represents the Capital area, also will wield enormous influence over federal relief efforts concerning the food disaster earlier this year that inundated the region, especially with the ascension next month of GOP Pres.-elect Donald Trump to office.

Edwards, a liberal governing a center-right state, desperately needs the recovery process to go swiftly without hiccups to salvage a chance of gaining reelection in 2019. Yet already Graves has questioned the Edwards Administration response, creating unfavorable publicity, and in the process of trying to secure more recovery dollars could use his congressional perch to do more of the same.

Thus, Edwards could not afford to have Melancon out there alienating Graves and those interests he represents. That’s why Melancon and his top assistant are gone, and hopefully with them the hyper-politicization that has characterized the department’s administration over the past year will go with them. It’s baggage Edwards simply no longer can afford.

Jeffrey Sadow

Jeffrey Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.   He writes a daily conservative blog called Between The Lines

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