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A Game of Political Musical Chairs in Louisiana?

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Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

New Orleans, Louisiana


In my home state of Louisiana, voters are about to witness a high stakes political game of musical chairs on both the state and national level.  This could lead to new faces in the top three Louisiana political offices.  We just could be talking about U.S. Senator Bobby Jindal, Governor David Vitter, as well as new Washington lobbyist, Mary Landrieu.  The political posturing for these future offices is already underway.

Louisiana’s current governor, Bobby Jindal, continues to stay coy about his plans, and insists he will finish his current four year term.  But once a politician experiences the national limelight, the lure of “moving on up” by seeking a U.S. Senate seat or a cabinet position is hard to pass up.  Jindal will be half way through his second term as governor when the 2014 election for the Senate seat, presently held by Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, comes up.  And even though Jindal says he won’t run, many think he “protests a bit too much.”Â  Just look at his recent campaign spending.

Jindal had a handful of no names running against him for governor, who spent virtually nothing in their campaign efforts.  The Governor could well have received the same final vote total (64%), if he had not spent a penny.  Yet he poured millions of dollars into his reelection effort.   Jindal donated campaign funds in 193 separate legislative races, including 49 races where the candidate had no opposition.  That’s $2,500 per candidate who was unopposed.  Numerous robo calls, and door to door solicitations by Jindal campaign staffers were the norm throughout the state.

So why all the effort for an election where the incumbent was a cinch?  Jindal has raised over $10 million for his reelection efforts.  But under federal campaign laws, he cannot spend any of these funds in a campaign for a federal office.  He has cleverly (and legally) used his state funds to build up major IOUs for his future political endeavors.  If this includes a U.S. Senate race, so be it.  The state money is legally used to lay a major foundation for what could well be a future federal race.

There has been talk of Jindal angling for a cabinet position in a new Republican administration, or even a Vice Presidential slot.  But his ill advised endorsement of Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose presidential campaign seems to flounder more as each week goes by,  has limited Jindal’s future choices.  His options would seem to be either head back to the private sector, or go for the U.S. Senate seat.

What about the current incumbent, Mary Landrieu?  She is serving her fourth term.  But if she is making plans for a reelection effort, any close political observer would hardly know it. Her current campaign disclosure statement shows a little over $800,000 on hand for a 2014 race.  That’s weekend walking around money for the Jindal campaign.  She rarely comes home to Louisiana.  And her actions in Washington are troubling to a number of Louisiana democrats.

Landrieu had the chance recently to hand pick a new 5th Circuit Court of Appeals judge.  This was the first opportunity to make such a choice, since the present opening was the first with a sitting democratic president in office.  Obama, as with past presidents from both parties, adheres to the wishes of the home state senator from the same party.  One can imagine the number of democratic state and federal judges salivating over the opportunity for such an appointment.  But Landrieu turned her back on a fellow democratic appointee, and adhered to a campaign supporter of Republican Senator David Vitter.

An obscure assistant prosecutor, Stephen Higginson, who had given Vitter multiple campaign contributions, was Vitter’s pick. Higginson might show up for work as a judge, but he had rarely bothered to vote in local and state elections.  Since 2007, Higginson passed on voting numerous times, including in a number of judicial elections.  And even though Higginson is not even a democrat, Landrieu apparently decided it was to her advantage, perhaps as a future Washington lobbyist, just to go along with Vitter.

I was in Washington a few weeks ago, and the consensus from a number of capitol political observers is that Landrieu isn’t looking much like a candidate for 2014. With Louisiana becoming a solid red state, and her chances for reelection questionable, Landrieu seems more focused on firming up her Washington relationships in both parties to set the stage to pass on reelection, and do what retired members of congress generally do — stay in Washington and build a lucrative lobbying career.

This brings us to the final member of the triumvirate. Current Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter seems eager to come back home.  He spent enormous resources in the recent gubernatorial election in support of two statewide losers.  But both candidates were running against incumbents and were underdogs to begin with.  Vitter’s effort tightened up the margins of victory, and allowed him to crisscross the state talking about others, and not be on the defensive as he has been in the past few years. He has raised money for a number of legislative candidates, and like Jindal, seems to be building up political statewide IOUs for the future.

Is it the Governor’s mansion for Vitter in 2015?  The Senator enjoyed the political give and take when he was in the state house of representatives.  But Washington is more disjointed, and Vitter’s current aggressive confrontations generally take place through press releases.  In Baton Rouge, he can relish the infighting and be much more politically relevant again.  So even though he has five years left on his current term, look for him to be back in Louisiana often in the months to come, submitting to the allure that enticed Huey Long, Edwin Edwards, Dave Treen, Buddy Roemer and Bobby Jindal, to come back home from Washington to the Governor’s mansion.

And then there is present Lt. Governor (and heir apparent if Jindal leaves office for Washington) Jay Dardenne.  How does he respond to a Vitter candidacy?  Remember that Vitter pummeled Dardenne during the recent Lt. Governor campaign.  Dardenne had the audacity to consider running against Vitter in 2010, and Vitter neither forgets nor forgives.  These guys could, along with popular state treasurer John Kennedy, create a real barnburner in a 2015 gubernatorial election.  And if Dardenne is not successful in being elected governor?  Well, there would be a special election for U.S. Senator just a short time later.  Senator Dardenne?  Governor Dardenne?  There’s a nice ring to both.

So don’t despair, you enthusiastic Louisiana political devotees.  Yes, 2011 was, with a few exceptions, a rather dull political year.  But we’re just a few years away from what well could be  one of the nastiest, most vicious, no holds barred political shootouts in many a year.  I can hardly wait.


“Politicians and diapers should be changed frequently and all for the same reason.”Â  ~José Maria de Eça de Queiroz, translated from Portuguese

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the country.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.



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