''What are we going to do without John Bel?''
That plaint from a Democratic officeholder in Baton Rouge has been heard from many others in various forms, as lame-duck status settles in for the term-limited Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The rumor that went around - again - about Edwards bailing for a national position in the Biden administration was an opening for a riff by the governor at the pre-session Ellevate briefing in Baton Rouge.
He draw laughs talking about being pursued by reporters on the basis of ''stories with absolutely zero truth.''
''I raised and spent $40 million to get reelected,'' he grinned. ''We finally have the money to invest in education and transportation. Do you think I'm going to leave?''
But the week's action leading up to the regular session of the Legislature starting Monday evening underlined the JBE gap, once it inevitably occurs in January 2024.
Edwards vetoed the congressional map passed by the Republican leadership of the Legislature last month, saying that a fair map would reflect two minority-majority districts instead of the one in the GOP incumbent-protection map.
For some of the good Democrats who have often chafed at Edwards' anti-abortion politics and careful triangulation among factions in the Legislature, this was - for a change - doing what the party wanted. Partisans want to sue over the maps and probably will, and a veto can be seen as strengthening their case, although it may not matter in this fall's battle for control of the U.S. House.
However, instead of vetoes, Edwards sidestepped a collision with the Legislature by allowing the egregiously onesided maps for the state lawmakers to become law without his signature.
A court might very well throw them out, but Edwards has one of the gifts of a good politician: priorities.
The governor's top priority, as he said at Ellevate, is spending the gusher of federal aid and rebounding state revenues on the pay raises and projects that he wants to see accomplished.
It's worth quoting the lawyerly distinction between a legislative fight over congressional incumbents' futures and a veto throwing the more intimately personal political survival of legislators into the session.
''While neither the congressional or legislative maps passed by Louisiana's Legislature do anything to increase the number of districts where minority voters can elect candidates of their choosing, I do not believe the Legislature has the ability to draw new state House and Senate maps during this upcoming legislative session without the process halting the important work of the state of Louisiana,'' Edwards wrote. ''At a time when we face unprecedented challenges but have unprecedented opportunities to make historic investments in our future, the Legislature should be focused on the issues in the upcoming session and not concerned about what their own districts will look like in the 2023 elections.''
This deftly does several things. It is a rationale for not vetoing, but also not picking a fight with legislators right now when the governor needs their votes to protect his spending priorities.
Couched as helpful, it is also a bit of slam on legislative leaders' capacities, probably not unjustified.
And it can be quoted in federal court challenges as a sign that the governor agrees with plaintiffs that the legislative maps are legally flawed.
A nice little triangulated package. There almost certainly won't be a Democrat in the Governor's Mansion in 2024.
But the real JBE gap is in his way of carefully splitting the political differences, keeping his actions in line with his priorities.
You don't see that skill set every day, in either party.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.