Lafayette ‘won’t openly defy’ the governor as other parishes break with stay-home order

Guillory speaks at a coronavirus press briefing

The gist: Conservative politicians and business groups are getting louder in their criticism of the governor’s stay-home order, as a partisan divide on social distancing is opening. At least three parishes will buck the governor altogether, challenging Gov. John Bel Edwards’ reach and resolve. Working to find flexibility where he can, Lafayette’s Republican mayor-president isn’t going that far. 

“I’m not going to openly defy a lawful order,” Josh Guillory said Thursday of the order, set to expire May 15. Guillory has led Lafayette to pry open a path to resuming commerce without flouting the governor altogether, and he’s been consistently warm to the governor’s efforts, often remarking that he sees where Edwards is coming from. Rhetorically, the Republican mayor is in step with his party, however, saying he trusts “the market” to incentivize safe decisions as the economy reopens. 

Both West and East Feliciana and LaSalle parishes will openly defy the stay-home order. The small mostly rural parishes will reopen restaurant dining rooms, nail salons and barber shops, among other changes, but with some precautions still in place. The defiance presses on a weakness in the executive order — it needs local law enforcement to back it up.

“I told him if he felt like he had to shut us down then he should come on up here and enforce it,” West Feliciana Parish President Kenny Havard, a Republican and former legislator who has aligned with Edwards in the past, told USA Today Network.

Some conservatives and business groups are pushing Edwards to loosen his grip from Baton Rouge. Republican legislators may vote to overturn the governor’s emergency declaration, upending the stay-home order altogether. That effort is joined by calls from industry leaders for a “free enterprise” approach to standing down social distancing. LABI chief Stephen Waguespack held Lafayette’s Safe Shop policy as a blueprint for moving forward without crushing business, apparently overlooking that the Lafayette policy conforms to the governor’s current restrictions.  

Guillory’s approach has won favorable attention. He will present the Safe Shop policy to fellow mayors in a call with the Louisiana Municipal Association, and some parishes have already copied the policy. Safe Shop makes use of an ambiguity in the governor’s order to allow nonessential businesses to open up with at most 25% occupancy, which in many cases would allow them to exceed the 10-person limit the governor re-emphasized in announcing his extension. That interpretation has been OK’d by the governor, even as it’s allowed for places with deadlier outbreaks, like in St. Landry Parish, to start reopening. Acadiana was among four regions the governor singled out for their lack of social distancing and continued struggle with the pandemic. 

“I don’t believe the best approach to anything is painting with a broad brush,” Guillory said Thursday, referencing a letter he and fellow Lafayette Parish mayors wrote Edwards asking for local flexibility. The mayor-president has made clear he’d prefer more autonomy but is willing to concede to the Democratic governor’s authority, even as conservative activists plan another rally in Baton Rouge on May 2 and local pressure is mounting from voters that make up no small part of his base. 

The governor formally extended his stay-home order Thursday. Should good trends hold, the governor said this week, he’ll begin a phased reopening of the economy. The first step would codify the 25% occupancy limit with continued safety precautions first implemented in Lafayette.