The last four years have been among the grimmest periods in the Democratic Party’s history. State parties in nearly every region have been decimated, Dems have almost no power in Congress, and the Midwestern states that once gave the party an edge in the Electoral College are now up for grabs.
But there have been a few notable victories. The most consequential was an off-year election in a red state, little noticed then and little mentioned now: the 2015 election of John Bel Edwards as Louisiana governor. The Pelican State’s politics are unique — that’s a euphemism — but Edwards’ election is still worth considering in light of the disappointingly one-dimensional debate taking place about the direction of the Democratic Party.
Should the party move left, or to the center? Politics isn’t reducible to such a simple metric. On the matter of guns and abortion, Edwards is far to the right of the national party. He’s as anti-abortion as many of his Republican counterparts, and he’s strongly supportive of gun rights. His biography (Catholic, former U.S. Army Ranger) fits that of a blue dog Democrat, a shrinking group that has fallen out of favor nationally.
But his election brought about one of the most significant but ignored progressive policy victories in years: He expanded Medicaid. With the stroke of a pen, Edwards brought one of the poorest states into the fold of the largest expansion of the welfare state since the 1960s, extending access to basic health care to almost 400,000 people.