In part I of a Bayoubuzz interview with reporter for The Advocate, Tyler Bridges, we discussed how Jon Bel Edwards basically came out of nowhere to become a player on the state scene and ultimately, the Democratic standard bearer. In part 2, below, we talked about how he travelled the lonely campaign road and why he might have been the perfect candidate to beat the unbeatable.
This interview is based upon Bridges's recent article for The Advocate in which he details the evolution of the Edwards campaign and provides information not found anywhere else.
SABLUDOWSKY: Could you tell us what Jon Bel Edwards did to try to make sure he was the only democrat running for governor
BRIDGES: He was limited in what he could do. So, what he could do was to go all around the state and speak before any group that he could, line up support among his friends and among the trial lawyers, some teacher union folks but the thing that worked best to his advantage was it was so difficult to win the race. Vitter had so much money, had such success, he had never lost an election, he helped turn around the legislature into a Republican-control legislature. So there wasn't much that Jon Bel Edwards could do, but--one thing he did specifically was he helped, he got the Democratic Party in March 2015 to endorse him at a time which Mitch Landrieu had not committed yet. And it wasn't looking like Mitch was going to run, but that Jon Bel made it even more difficult for him to run by getting the Democratic Party, as I said, March of this year, to endorse them and then Mayor Landrieu said in April that he was not going to be a candidate for governor.
SABLUDOWSKY: And Mitch Landrieu actually did not endorse anybody for governor until the runoff-- do you have any information as to why that was the case?
BRIDGES: I don't have any inside information. Again, for so long, Jon Bel Edwards did not look like a winnable candidate and as you mentioned, once he got into the runoff he did get that endorsement and then a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon at that point. I know that Mayor Landrieu was very important in raising money in the New Orleans area, particularly a fund raiser that was held at James Carville's house, in New Orleans. But Jon Bel Edwards ran a lonely campaign for a long time.
SABLUDOWSKY: I think you reported that he had one person paid staff who I guess was his driver, maybe also had a paid staff with Mary Wray, am I correct?
BRIDGES: Mary Patricia Wray came aboard as a paid staff I think in January of this year but a fellow named Chris Binder was the first employee and drove Jon Bel Edwards around the state. I noted again in this article, that the governor elect likes to listen to satellite radio station called "Willy's Roadhouse"-- not one I listen to, but it's an 'ol country music station.
SABLUDOWSKY: And so he would listen to that during his drive around the state. Obviously in the article you also talk about Amite City and a lot of people have not heard of the town, what type of person was he--based upon all the information that you have collected?
BRIDGES: Well there's a funny story that I was told by state senator Norby Chabert . This was the Wednesday before the election. And he's leaving an insurance office in down in the Bayou where Norby is from, and he's leaving the insurance office and an old woman sees him and says, "vote for the Boy Scout, it's important". He really seems to be the Boy Scout. Now we don't know everything about him, but the Republicans certainly tried to find out everything they could about him. Vitter and his opposition researchers culled through Tangipahoa Parish and they didn't seem to find anything, so his background is that he was the seventh of eight kids of the sheriff, whose dad had been sheriff, whose dad had been sheriff, is like Jon Bel Edwards had a grandfather and great-grandfather who had been sheriff's in Tangipahoa Parish--high school quarterback, star athlete, married the girl he met in 10th grade, goes off to West Point, does very well there, in charge of enforcing the honor code at West Point, then becomes an Army Ranger, then becomes a captain in 82nd Airborne Division. He was sort of out of central casting as a Democratic candidate and it turns out that David Vitter was out of central casting as the villain candidate for the Democrats (Republicans). Jon Bel Edwards he graduated from West Point in 1988, ended up going to LSU law school and then hangs out his shingle in Amite as a lawyer. He's a trial lawyer but also does local stuff that a country lawyer handles--contracts and mundane stuff like that. And then gets elected to the state house in 2007. He didn't win that many votes the state house, and then the idea that he had the fortitude and the intelligence, the speaking ability, the discipline to run statewide and pull it off, that's another big challenge.
SABLUDOWSKY: Absolutely, it sounds like the quintessential Democratic candidate, beating the--running and winning. A lot of people think that's something like that can't happen again but we will have to wait and see. In terms of Jon Bel Edwards and Sam Jones, you mentioned that he told Sam Jones, the state rep and Sam Jones worked for Governor Blanco, was that in any capacity other than just a friend
BRIDGES: I don't understand the question
SABLUDOWSKY: I'm sorry. Did Sam Jones work in any campaign capacity? Do you know, other than say, a supporter?
BRIDGES: You mean for Jon Bel Edwards
BRIDGES: I think they were very close friends, they are seatmates in the state house after Sam Jones had a heart attack, heart problems, he moved in with Jon Bel Edwards during the legislative session and so I think he was a trusted advisor and Sam is a very smart political strategist. I don't think he had an official role with the campaign but was very valued and I think will continue to be very valued for governor-elect and soon to be Governor Edwards.