Former governor supports call for constitutional convention

By Jeremy Alford

The state House of Representatives voted against and Gov. John Bel Edwards said it’s probably best to wait, but former Gov. Edwin Edwards told the Crowley Rotary that he’s in favor of calling another constitutional convention as soon as possible

The remarks surprised some, given Edwin Edwards’ lack of clarity on the issue previously and his status as the political godfather of the current Constitution that was ratified in 1974.

In an interview with LaPolitics, Edwards elaborated.

“The Constitution needs to be changed, given the status of the budget and financials today,” he said.

The former governor believes that statutory dedications in the Louisiana Constitution are among the largest obstacles delegates would face.

“When there is a mid-year deficit, the governor can only address higher education and health care and reduce their funds to balance the budget. That ought to be removed so he can look at all of the various budgets in order to balance the state budget.”

Edwards said he favored of a convention to rewrite the entire Constitution, not just parts of it, as the lead bill rejected by the House during the regular session would have done.

“I would prefer it if they looked at the whole document,” he said.

What other issues need attention? Edwards mentioned the consolidation of the state’s higher education boards, an idea he pushed during the 1973-74 Constitutional Convention.

“At the time, I was advocating for one board over all colleges, but there was a great deal of opposition from the areas with local colleges and I understood that,” he said.

Edwards, who first ran for governor promising a convention, predicted the candidates for the same job in 2019 will again make it central talking point.

“If I were running for governor,” he said, “I would definitely campaign on rewriting the Constitution.”

Constitutional Coalition 2020, a pro-convention group consisting of civic and business associations, lobbied lawmakers during this year’s regular session to adopt a bill paving the way for a convention and it’s expected to get involved in next year’s legislative elections too.

Senator staying quiet about future run

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for re-election as well as Senate president, secretary of state and governor.

A first-term Republican from Slidell, Hewitt has chiseled a scrappy brand for herself in short order, and partly on the shoulders of a terse and well-publicized exchange with Gov. John Bel Edwards during the year’s first special session.

She’s an aggressive politico and has traveled far outside her Senate district to speak to Rotary clubs and chambers of commerce.

So what is Hewitt going to do? Is she running for statewide office?

“Time will tell,” she said when asked, offering a non-answer to a question that’s pondered frequently in her absence.

“Sen. Hewitt is doing everything that you should do if you are considering running for governor,” said St. Tammany consultant James Hartman, who has managed a race against the senator. “I think she would be a formidable candidate and a very effective chief executive for Louisiana.”

Political History:
The fastest legislative adjournment ever

In the summer of 1959, every news outlet in Louisiana was filled with reports of the daily activities of then-Gov. Earl K. Long. Having just obtained a highly-publicized release from a state mental hospital in Mandeville, Long made headlines for soon afterward cavorting with a Bourbon Street stripper, Blaze Starr, before embarking on a wild vacation in the western states.

According to historian Jack McGuire in his book, Win the Race or Die Trying: Uncle Earl’s Last Hurrah, Long had stayed in touch with legislators during his vacation, mailing his lawmakers everything from postcards to cases of cantaloupes. Some, like Sen. Sixty Rayburn of Bogalusa, even joined the governor for parts of his multi-week trip.

Long had been institutionalized during the regular session of the Legislature, which had become bogged down in a debate over voting rights and racial integration. Because the governor was out of pocket, many of his favored bills had been voted down or died in committee.

Returning to Louisiana refreshed, Long called a special session of the Legislature to enact a litany of bills that he wanted passed. Included in his call were routine measures such as taxes, higher ed and local districts. Then there was a section asking to review the statutes around the involuntary commitment of a person to a mental institution.

Legislators, meanwhile, were tired of the governor’s behavior and unenthusiastic about going into a special session with elections only a few months away. Gauging the mood of their members, Long’s floor leaders tried to have him call off the session, but the governor ignored their pleas.

When lawmakers gaveled in at 5 p.m. on August 10, they made quick work of the session.

The House’s first order of business was to swear in a new member. As soon as that was done, another member, Rep. Ben Holt, moved to adjourn sine die. The motion passed easily and the Senate concurred within minutes, ending the shortest special session — about 10 minutes total — in Louisiana’s history.

Gov. Long made his way over to the Senate chamber and addressed lawmakers as they headed home. Despite the rebuke of his special session, he made light of the situation, telling members, “so you might say now that you have had an opportunity to see a crazy governor.”

They Said It

“I’m beginning to feel like I’m a special session specialist.”

—State Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, his career options


“I realized why Louisiana is shaped like a boot, because we are the ‘kick-the-can’ state.”

—State Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, speaking in Ways & Means


About Jeremy Alford 227 Articles
Jeremy Alford is an independent journalist and the co-author of LONG SHOT, which recounts Louisiana's 2015 race for governor. His bylines appear regularly in The New York Times and he has served as an on-camera analyst for CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and C-SPAN.

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