March 24, 2021. With only hours left until voting closed for the Student Government election, Gov. John Bel Edwards endorsed the It’s Time ticket in a 17-second video posted to the group's Twitter account.
“LSU Tiger students: John Bel Edwards here,” he opened. “I had the great pleasure of getting to know Mia LeJeune, and I can highly recommend her for your next president. So I just want to tell you, in respect to this election, It’s Time. Vote It’s Time ticket. Thank you so much.”
The endorsement sparked instant controversy among students and other campaigns.
In a tweet, a staff member from the Bowman-Milligan campaign accused It's Time members of “career chasing” and called the endorsement hypocritical. Others noted that an endorsement from a politician who has been partially complicit with the University’s continued lack of Title IX accountability was at odds with the campaign's messaging around sexual assault advocacy.
Democracy @ Work LSU also released a scathing statement following the Edwards endorsement, slamming the ticket for its connections with state Democratic leaders:
“[It’s Time] runs on protecting students from sexual assault as its primary issue, but collaborates with a party that has systematically silenced women from speaking out about sexual violence when it wasn't beneficial for the party.”
Full disclosure: I voted for Mia LeJeune and Angelina Cantelli, in addition to several other candidates on the It’s Time ticket. Overall, I believe It’s Time held the strongest campaign.
The results of the election have been in for over a week, and the It’s Time presidential candidates did not succeed. It’s Time did, however, take a majority of seats in the SG Senate.
But even though the election is over, this endorsement, its implications and the precedent it set are still important to consider critically.
The most immediate point is glaringly uncomfortable: the governor’s son, John Miller Edwards, was on the It’s Time campaign.
As an elected official, it is your duty to not take advantage of your position to enrich yourself or others — no matter how small that enrichment may seem. In my opinion, it is also your duty to avoid giving even the appearance of doing so.
Even if Edwards would have favored It’s Time regardless of his son’s involvement in the campaign, there was simply no way for him to ethically endorse a ticket in which his son was involved. Elected officials should go to great extents to avoid corruption and nepotism — and the appearance of them — in all forms; by giving his endorsement, Edwards failed to meet the standards of transparency and fairness to which he should have been held.
But even if his son was removed from the picture entirely, there would still be lingering questions about the appropriateness of such an endorsement.
The It’s Time campaign manager noted to The Reveille that a Louisiana governor had never endorsed an SG ticket before this election. I think there’s probably a good reason for that.
I cannot help but wonder what sort of incentives a potential endorsement from the governor creates for student leaders. Now that the possibility of a gubernatorial endorsement has been introduced, is this a goal to which future campaigns will aspire?
And if that is the case, what sort of influence will such endorsements have on the way student leaders run their campaigns — and, if they win, the way they run their administrations?
The It’s Time ticket itself correctly noted that the relationship between the state government and the University is massively important.
It is difficult to imagine that any campaign looking for an endorsement from a politician would be openly critical of that person. For that reason, it is best to remove incentives — such as political endorsements — that have the potential to silence such criticism from student leaders at the University.
Beyond that, removing those incentives ensures that the student population can have confidence in the intentions of SG leaders. The benefit of a gubernatorial endorsement for an individual campaign is far outweighed by the possible detriment to the student body as a whole.
I do not believe the It’s Time ticket secured this endorsement with poor intentions, but the incentive structure created by such an endorsement is larger than the character of any individual campaign. Even though this precedent has been set by a campaign many of us supported, next time it could be one we find abhorrent, which is why the principle of this endorsement matters.
Simply put: Edwards should not have endorsed an SG ticket, especially not one with which his son was involved. I only hope his actions don't set a pattern for future SG elections.
Claire Sullivan is an 18-year-old coastal environmental science freshman from Southbury, CT.