(The Center Square) – Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry took shots at each other over the governor’s mask mandate and other COVID-19-related restrictions in letters released Friday and Monday.
The letters continued a public argument that began Wednesday, when Landry issued an opinion calling Edwards’ latest executive order unconstitutional. Republicans who want to overturn Edwards’ public health emergency declaration requested the opinion, which does not carry the force of law.
Landry said the order mandating face coverings, closing bars and restricting crowd sizes is both overly broad and too vague to be fairly and consistently applied. He also argued the governor has no right to ask business owners to help enforce his mask mandate.
In his letter to Edwards made public Monday, Landry starts out attacking Edwards for failing to chastise protestors for gathering in large groups where the physical distance state and federal guidelines recommend is hard to maintain.
Experts originally worried the protests nationwide would cause spikes in COVID-19 cases though publicly available evidence so far suggests that hasn’t been the case.
Landry points out that a business or office requiring masks is not the same thing as a statewide government mandate. He said asking business owners to enforce the mandate places “job creators in the crosshairs” of potential federal civil rights lawsuits.
Landry says his office has been “extraordinarily generous” in giving Edwards “the benefit of the doubt” and attributes his “perceived change in position” to his belief that the new coronavirus is not as dangerous as originally feared. He said residents need to “learn how to live with this,” noting that people routinely take on life-threatening risks when they drive a car.
“We need to be working on practical, achievable, and realistic practices that we can perform long-term,” Landry says to Edwards. “You have not been doing so, and that is regrettable because – without realistic and achievable goals – we will continue to be reactionary.”
In March, Landry, a Republican, made a rare public appearance with Edwards, a Democrat, and said the governor’s initial emergency order, which closed bars, theaters and fitness facilities, limited restaurants to delivery and carryout only, and banned gatherings of 50 or more people in the same room among other restrictions, was constitutional.
Landry says he supported the initial restrictions in hopes of ensuring the state’s health care facilities were not overwhelmed with patients. In his written opinion, he says “we seem to have achieved that purpose.”
In his letter to Landry made public Friday, Edwards notes that the state constitution hasn’t changed since March.
“In fact, the only thing that has changed is the dire spread of the virus in Louisiana,” he says.
On March 18th, when Landry and Edwards shared a stage, the state had 281 confirmed cases and seven deaths, Edwards said. On Monday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported at least 3,462 state residents had died from COVID-19 and that 1,508 people with the illness were in state hospitals. The latter number has been rising in recent weeks, leading to concerns about running out of intensive care beds in some areas, though it is still below the April peak of 2,134 people hospitalized.
Edwards says “every measure I have taken” is in line with White House guidance. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal public health officials say closing bars, limiting crowds, and requiring masks all are considered best practices for states like Louisiana with high infection rates, he adds.
David Jacobs, Staff reporter for the Center Square, is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.