While other Democrats spend this midterm election year roaring against the Trump White House, expect Louisiana’s governor to stay friendly.
“I think I best serve the people of Louisiana by having a good working relationship with whomever the occupant of the White House is,” Gov. John Bel Edwards told a reporter earlier this week. “That certainly goes for President Trump.”
Edwards was the only elected Democrat at Trump’s prison reform roundtable Thursday. The event, at the president’s Bedminster, N.J. golf club included governors and attorneys general from Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota and Texas. The Louisiana governor mentioned recent expansions of probation and parole opportunities for non-violent offenders, as well as reinvestments toward re-entry programs — adjustments that helped his state lose its title as the nation’s leading jailer per capita.
“We’re excited about what we’re doing, and we’re looking forward to sharing that with you,” the governor said.
“Thanks, John Bel,” Trump replied with a nod.
This was not Edwards’ first time being the sole Democrat in the Trump Administration’ company. He was the only Democratic leader at a White House state dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron this past April. He was one of two Democrats to sit at the president’s table during last year’s annual National Governors Association meeting. In November, he spoke about criminal justice reform in Washington with Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
“It was a great visit, and I was happy to stop by the White House,” said Edwards, the Deep South’s only Democratic governor, following that trip. “They seemed to be interested in the types of sentencing reforms, trying to decrease the incarceration rate while increasing public safety at the same time.”
The cooperation between the Democrat and the Republican has its benefits, intended and not. Political analyst John Couvillon says it can aid Trump’s bipartisan credentials while giving Edwards a bridge to federal disaster and infrastructure dollars.
“It’s a lot easier to get those things pushed through if you have the president’s support than if you take the more progressive approach of blind opposition to everything the president does,” he said.
Couvillon added that the working relationship could help Edwards win or maintain support from moderates and independents in Louisiana, where Trump won 58 percent of the vote in the 2016 presidential election. While the governor has spoken against the White House’s tariffs and child separation policy, his office says that’s no reason to abandon the olive branch.
“Louisiana is one of those states that, more often than many other states, often requires assistance from the federal government,” he said this week. “Having good relationships with the congressional delegation, with the president, with the White House and other officials in the cabinet is incredibly important.”
Following Thursday’s roundtable, Edwards invited Trump to tour Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, in an effort to showcase Louisiana’s investments in prisoner rehabilitation and workforce training.
“I believe you will gain a great deal of insight by visiting Louisiana State Penitentiary, and I look forward to welcoming you to Louisiana on behalf of the people I serve,” Edwards wrote in a letter hand-delivered to Trump on Thursday.
The White House acknowledged it received the governor’s invitation, though Trump has yet to indicate whether he will visit.