GOP politicians lash out at LSU coach Ed Orgeron's appearance at Democratic fundraiser

LSU head coach Ed Orgeron applauds his players during the first half against UCF in the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ed Orgeron has drawn some heat over his foray into politics. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Following a 10-3 campaign that saw LSU football finish in the AP poll’s top 10 for the first time since 2011, native son Ed Orgeron is a pretty popular guy in Louisiana. However, some Louisiana lawmakers have begun loudly grumbling about how the coach is using that popularity.

Orgeron drew some public heat from GOP politicians after introducing Louisiana’s Democratic governor John Bel Edwards at a campaign fundraiser on Thursday, The Times-Picayune reports. According to a recording, Orgeron said, “I know the state of Louisiana believes in [Edwards] just like a championship quarterback.”

Edwards is currently running for re-election to a second term as governor, with a primary scheduled for October and a possible top-two runoff in November. All proceeds from the fundraiser, which was held on LSU’s campus and reportedly cost more than $1,000 per plate, went to Edwards’ campaign.

Naturally, some of Edwards’ political opponents had some criticism for the appearance and endorsement by Louisiana’s highest-profile public employee at a political event.

GOP blasts LSU’s Ed Orgeron’s appearance at fundraiser

The highest-profile Republican to go after Orgeron’s appearance was U.S. Senator John Kennedy, who said that the coach should not be allowed to make public endorsements.

“This is both teeth striped down to the marrow stupid,” Kennedy said in an interview with | The Times-Picayune Friday afternoon. “He should not be endorsing Democrats, Republicans, socialists, communists, Hindus...”

Kennedy said Orgeron’s involvement in the governor’s campaign could potentially turn people who don’t align themselves with Edwards’ politics off of LSU’s own fundraising efforts. The university launched its most ambitious campaign ever last week with the goal of raising $1.5 billion to support its campuses statewide.

Two more critics were Republican congressman Ralph Abraham and his political consultant Lionel Rainey. Funnily enough, Abraham lamented the criticism that Orgeron had drawn toward the university.

“Let’s be real here - John Bel is his boss. It’s beyond inappropriate. It’s selfish and shows poor leadership for the governor to co-opt LSU football for personal political gains,” Abraham said. “He just threw the our flagship university into another PR nightmare and isolated half the fanbase.”

Lionel Rainey, Abraham’s political consultant, joked that Edwards might soon be seen leading the LSU band like Huey Long. Long famously pumped money in the marching band, took a personal interest in its operations and used it for his own political purposes.

Those concerns over Orgeron and Edwards’ relationship likely stem from Edwards’ ability as governor to appoint members to the LSU Board of Supervisors, which in turn oversees Orgeron’s contract.

Democrats fire back over Ed Orgeron

The Edwards campaign reportedly pushed back on the claims that Orgeron had acted wrongly, saying that it was his right to make his voice heard:

“It’s also troubling that a United States Senator and attorney believes that college coaches should be denied their First Amendment rights,” said Eric Holl, spokesman for the governor’s campaign. “There’s a long record of coaches supporting candidates for elected office in Louisiana and other states, and they have the right to do so.”

That last line is true, as Orgeron’s predecessor Les Miles once appeared at a presidential campaign even for former Republican governor Bobby Jindal, per The Advocate. At around the same time, Jindal publicly signaled his support for Miles while the coach was on the hot seat.

The Times-Picayune also noted that Orgeron is actually not legally forbidden from participating in political fundraisers like most state employees, thanks to his status as an “unclassified state employee.”

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