Last night at Loyola University in New Orleans, candidates for the two major Louisiana statewide positions up for grabs in this fall’s elections appeared at a forum sponsored by the Alliance for Good Government, with the organization’s endorsements as the grand prize.
Incumbent Republican David Vitter spent the evening taking barbs from four challengers – Democrat Charlie Melancon, Reform Party candidate William McShan and independents Ernest Wooton and Mike Spears. Vitter gave as good as he got despite being accused of excessive partisanship and ineffectiveness (sounds like an excellent resume for a Republican Senator to us compared to what the opposite has produced in Washington, but we digress); Spears said “He’s offered 95 bills. He’s passed zero.”
Vitter, meanwhile, touted his work on prescription drug legislation, on which he’s worked with Democrats, and coastal restoration. And while the format of the debate didn’t lend itself to candidates laying haymakers he did manage to hit Melancon on a common theme in Vitter’s campaign – namely, Melancon’s votes for the stimulus and bailouts. Vitter opposed them all.
Wooton played the role of class clown, noting that “The two-party system was created as checks and balances. Now it’s checks and checks.” He also noted, whining about a lack of attention as an independent, that if he’d known he was going to be standing between Vitter and Melancon “I’d have worn a black-and-white shirt.”
When Vitter couldn’t answer a moderator’s question with a yes-or-no answer as requested, Spears took the only shot at him of the forum based on his 2007 admission of involvement in the D.C. madam scandal. “Mr. Vitter can’t follow the rules and that’s not a surprise because he can’t follow the law,” the self-described Tea Party candidate said.
But for all the back-and-forth, the Alliance still endorsed Vitter after the forum.
In the Lieutenant Governor’s race, a special election to fill the seat vacated earlier this year when Mitch Landrieu resigned to run for mayor of New Orleans, three of the eight candidates participated in the forum. Republican frontrunner Jay Dardenne focused on promoting the state’s film industry and making it a larger part of the Louisiana economy. He also touted his resume as a state legislator and current position as Secretary of State.
St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis, a Republican who earned the scorn of the state’s conservatives in 2008 when he endorsed Democrat Mary Landrieu for re-election to her Senate seat, went Dardenne one better and said he’d push to promote the state’s music business. Davis said he’d created 17,000 jobs in St. Tammany during his time as parish president.
Democrat Butch Gautreaux, a term-limited state senator from Morgan City, pushed to increase the number of retirees making their homes in Louisiana and also touted the idea of forcing BP to cough up cash to help Louisiana bolster its national image.
State GOP chairman Roger Villere and country singer Sammy Kershaw, widely regarded as the most likely major rivals to Dardenne in the Oct. 2 primary, sent representatives to the forum to tout their positions, as did New Orleans Democrat attorney Caroline Fayard. Two minor candidates, Jim Crowley and Melanie McKnight, were no-shows.
Subsequent to the debate, the hosts put forth the big surprise of the evening. The Alliance picked Davis as its endorsee for Lieutenant Governor. Some would question that endorsement given the sometimes spotty history of “good government” in St. Tammany, including accusations of tax abuse, his attempts to install casino gambling on shorefront property owned by friends and several other implications of questionable dealing. Davis scored seven percent of the vote in an Aug. 20 WWL poll in the Lieutenant Governor race.