Sunday, June 23, 2024

LaRose: Gov.-elect Landry surprisingly chummy with New Orleans — for now

by BIZ Magazine

Quite a few necks whipped around with surprise last week when Gov.-elect Jeff Landry called up Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams to the podium at a Superdome news conference to announce their new partnership. Under the guidance of incoming Attorney General Liz Murrill, state prosecutors would supplement the thin staff of the Orleans DA’s office, according to Landry.

“I’m here today to stand with him, and stand with the new attorney general, to make it really, really abundantly clear that partnerships like this have to become the norm, not the exception,” Williams said.

Yes, this is the same Jason Williams that Landry pilloried when the DA announced his office would not investigate abortion cases after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. 

And yes, this is the same New Orleans from which Landry sought to withhold state bond financing for a critical infrastructure project because of the DA’s stance and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s condemnation of the legislature’s approval of an abortion ban.

“It is my belief that a parish or municipality should not benefit from the hard-working taxpayers of this State while ignoring laws validly enacted by the people through their representatives,” Landry wrote in a July 2022 letter to Treasurer and Bond Commission chairman John Schroder. 

So what’s behind the apparent change of heart and mending of fences between the next governor, the state’s Republican standard bearer, and New Orleans’ Democratic leadership?

“I think what we’re seeing, at least for the short term, is sort of the governor’s honeymoon period,” said Robert Collins, an urban studies and political analyst at Dillard University. “…So right now, Jeff Landry is going to get his honeymoon. During his honeymoon period, I think everybody, regardless of party or ideology, is going to at least make an attempt to work with him.”

Evidence of this new spirit of cooperation was seen on social media, with photos of Cantrell and Landry arm-in-arm at the Bayou Classic. The governor-elect said at last Wednesday’s news conference he had just come from a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the mayor, and that both of them planned to meet again before his inauguration on Jan. 8.

Yes, this is the same mayor that Landry lined up against as he sought to intervene in a lawsuit against her for COVID-19 business restrictions she put in place, saying at the time Cantrell was “abusing her office.” 

And remember when Landry stood behind Christian musician Lauren Daigle after she took part in an illegal worship event near Jackson Square during the pandemic? The attorney general reacted when Cantrell sought to have Daigle removed from a New Year’s Eve broadcast from New Orleans for her infraction.

Also, take into account that Landry was the mastermind behind legislation that would have removed confidentiality from juvenile court proceedings in Caddo, East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes. Lawmakers rejected the proposal earlier this year, but it certainly achieved its desired effect to cast Landry as the anti-progressive crime fighter in the governor’s race.

Williams is also a far cry from the progressive candidate he portrayed during his 2020 election, Collins said. Most notably, the district attorney has departed from his election emphasis on trying juveniles as adults, and he has reversed his stance on using the state’s multiple-offender law to seek harsher sentences for defendants.  

“I’ve never really seen Jason Williams as sort of a true, traditional progressive,” Collins said. “I’ve always seen Jason Williams as just a smart, pragmatic, urban politician that basically sort of reads his constituents and then tries to deliver the services that his constituents want.”

Backing off of progressive reforms is one thing for a politician; showing up at Landry’s first news conference as governor-elect in New Orleans is quite another. But is there any real pitfall that Williams has created by striking an apparent alliance with Landry?            

“The only real political risk is if it doesn’t work,” Collins said, “if the murder rate keeps going up, if the car break-in rate keeps going up, if the carjackings keep going up.”

As for Cantrell, there’s no sign she’s worried about what others might think about her newfound spirit of cooperation with Landry. Then again, she’s not exactly known for giving much thought to public perception. 

We’re still more than a month away from Landry taking office, so it’s too early to guess how long New Orleans will enjoy this honeymoon period. For now, it’s best to consider the incoming governor’s alliance with Cantrell and Williams a marriage of convenience.

Greg LaRose is editor of the Louisiana Illuminator and has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana.

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