Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ game plan to win reelection includes associating very publicly with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints; their star quarterback, Drew Brees; and LSU’s head football coach, Ed Orgeron.
This week, Edwards, a Democrat, announced plans to support the gift of $93 million in state taxpayers funds and the issuance of $210 million in state-guaranteed bonds as part of a $450 million plan to upgrade the Superdome, home to the Saints football and other major sporting events, and cement an agreement that would keep the NFL’s New Orleans Saints in the city for another 30 years.
Though the deal had been in the works since May, the timing of Edwards’ announcement has a political element to it: he faces Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) and several other candidates in a “jungle primary” election this October. The most recent poll shows he leads Abraham by nine points.
Then on Wednesday, Edwards, a West Point graduate and veteran, joined forces with the Saints’ popular All-Pro quarterback, Drew Brees, to launch a public service advertising campaign promoting a state initiative to support veterans.
Earlier, Ed Orgeron, head coach of the state-funded Louisiana State University football team, publicly endorsed Edwards for reelection, a move that caused challenger Abraham to call for a yellow penalty flag.
The terms of the $450 million Superdome renovation deal are similar to those around the country that have come under criticism over the past decade as a “crony capitalist” friendly use of taxpayer funds:
“Gov. John Bel Edwards gave his blessing to the plan during an April 17 meeting with state and team officials in Baton Rouge, said Kyle France, the chairman of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, which oversees Superdome affairs for the state,” Nola.com reported:
The costs for the project will be shared by the LSED ($207 million), Saints ($150 million) and state ($93 million) in a creative funding plan that still needs to be approved by the state bond commission.
Officials presented the plan to State treasurer John Schroder last Friday (April 26) and plan to make similar presentations to members of the bond commission before its next meeting on May 16.
Saints president Dennis Lauscha said that unlike previous Dome renovations that added revenue-generating suites that bolstered the team’s bottom line, this overhaul is focused on keeping an old stadium relevant in a league dominated by new, state-of-the-art venues.
In April, Coach Orgeron endorsed Edwards at a fundraiser. That endorsement has drawn fire from Republicans across the state.
“LSU’s popular football coach Ed Orgeron is Louisiana’s most well-known state employee. Some even consider him the face of LSU, Louisiana’s flagship university,” Nola.com reported:
So Orgeron’s appearance at a political fundraiser for Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards Thursday (April 4) raised some eyebrows, especially in Republican circles.
The coach, who grew up outside Houma, introduced Edwards at an event that cost $1,000 to $5,000 per plate to attend. It was held at the LSU Andonie Sports Museum on the university’s campus and all the proceeds are going to Edwards’ reelection efforts. The governor faces two Republicans — Congressman Ralph Abraham and Baton Rouge Businessman Eddie Rispone — on the ballot this fall.
The Hayride, a conservative Louisiana news site, criticized Edwards for accepting Orgeron’s endorsement at a fundraiser:
This morning we had a perfect example of the lack of ethics and propriety inherent in the current occupant of Louisiana’s governor’s mansion. Namely, that John Bel Edwards threw a fundraiser at the Andonie Museum on LSU’s campus at which he had football coach Ed Orgeron deliver a full-throated endorsement of his re-election.
Look, Orgeron can endorse who he wants. This isn’t about what he’s doing. It’s about Edwards, and whether it’s appropriate for him to be dragging Orgeron into his re-election campaign.
It isn’t. It wasn’t appropriate when Bobby Jindal dragged Les Miles into his political orbit, either.
If you’re the football coach at LSU, you are not a political figure, or at least you’re not appropriately a political figure. Especially when you’re in the middle of the university’s $1.5 billion capital campaign, $600 million of which is supposed to be raised by the Tiger Athletic Foundation which mostly supports your program.
Though Republicans have raised questions about the propriety of Orgeron’s endorsement, the Edwards campaign remains unapologetic.