Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to support Louisiana Republican candidates in federal races stoked a modicum of controversy a few weeks ago when he failed to endorse Sen. David Vitter after the latter secured the party’s nomination with 88 percent of the vote on Aug. 28.
The unofficial spin emanating from the Jindal camp made the Vitter non-endorsement seem perfectly reasonable. Vitter was going to win his race over Charlie Melancon easily, the story went, so he didn’t need Jindal’s help. And given Vitter’s past problems with personal conduct, there was no point in Jindal tainting himself with scandal.
Unfortunately, today that spin won’t wash. Not after Jindal failed to make an endorsement of Jay Dardenne over Caroline Fayard in the Lieutenant Governor’s race.
Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin told the Times-Picayune that “if we decide to endorse someone in the race, we’ll let you know.”
The same Times-Pic article said none of the losing candidates in the Lt. Gov. race had made endorsements, which is wrong. The article even made mention of state GOP chairman Roger Villere’s e-mail supporting the Republican slate of candidates in November, which included Dardenne. That’s what’s known as an endorsement, whether it’s termed “generic” by the Picayune or not.
So if Villere, who was the most vitriolic critic of Dardenne’s in the primary, has endorsed him, one wonders why the Republican governor who has not only endorsed but raised money for GOP candidates in Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire and Kansas in recent weeks can’t do so.
It wouldn’t appear there’s another politician in the state who so closely resembles Jindal as Jay Dardenne does. Both come off as unideological, competent and honest Republican politicians who hew slightly to the right of center rather than pushing policy to the conservative edge. Both have angered the state’s conservative voters at times. Both have been accused of unfailing political ambition.
An endorsement of Dardenne would seem to be the safest, most no-brainer of an endorsement Jindal could make.
And yet he’s not making it. Which begs the question, what’s wrong with Jindal? Does he have laryngitis?
Is he still shell-shocked from his failed endorsements of Lee Domingue and John Kennedy in 2008, among others?
Or, in this case, is Jindal afraid to alienate the trial lawyers?
You’d think a Republican politician with national ambitions would intentionally make enemies with the trial lawyers, if for no other reason than to burnish his conservative bona fides. “I took on the trial lawyers and won” is something a Republican dreams about being able to say in a 30-second spot.
But Jindal’s record doesn’t even indicate he’s trying to achieve that status, and in light of his refusal to endorse Dardenne yesterday that fact seems to be rising in significance.
Because Dardenne’s opponent Caroline Fayard is a trial lawyer, and the daughter of one of Louisiana’s most prototypical trial lawyers. Calvin Fayard has a relatively long history of being involved with seedy-but-lucrative class action suits and manipulating events to favor his side, both in Louisiana and nationally. He’s also implicated in a scheme to evade income taxes by treating his employees as independent contractors, something we’ll delve into in more detail in a future post.
In short, Fayard is exactly the kind of operator that a supposedly conservative governor would regard as a moral imperative to keep away from statewide office. Fayard’s cozy relationship with former attorney general Charles Foti was the source of great consternation in the legal aftermath of Katrina; when his daughter says the Lieutenant Governor’s office is “chock full of possibilities” it ought to scare the bejesus out of Jindal.
On the other hand, two weeks ago Jindal headlined a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser hosted by the plaintiff firm of Gauthier Houghtaling Williams, LLP. That firm, started by legendary trial lawyer Wendell Gauthier (he of silicone breast implants suit fame) and currently run by Kevin Costner’s business partner John Houghtaling, is heavily involved in cranking up lawsuits against BP. That takes us into the rather disturbing subject of a bill in the legislature this summer, introduced by Senate President and Democrat trial lawyer Joel Chaisson, which would have provided for contingency fees for outside lawyers to do work for the state in cases involving BP and the oil spill. Jindal supported the bill, which died amid howls from the business lobby and others.
Houghtaling, meanwhile, has a history of making big donations to Democrat candidates. To be donating to Jindal all of a sudden seems more than a little strange; what’s stranger still is a $1,000 donation to Orrin Hatch from 1999. We noticed in yesterday’s research that both Calvin and Caroline Fayard had made donations to the Utah Republican, and we found that peculiar as well.
Turns out that Hatch’s vote on legislation affecting tobacco lawsuits may have had something to do with that. At least that’s one theory. Another turned up at the Slabbed blog – looks like there was a connection with a bunch of trial lawyers, John Breaux and Hatch with respect to the appointment of one Thomas Porteous to the federal bench. Porteous got confirmed, Hatch landed a huge windfall of donations from Louisiana lawyers – including nine different $1,000 donations from members of the Fayard family – and everything went swimmingly until the judge turned out to be one of the most famously corrupt in the history of corrupt judges and ended up getting impeached this year.
With all of this baggage out there, and the more research I’m doing on Calvin Fayard and his history of political fixin’ in Louisiana and elsewhere (Fayard was one of the big Democrat donors who pledged huge sums of money to cover the costs of a primary in Michigan in 2008 to get Hillary Clinton the additional delegates for the Democrat nomination, for example) the more the idea of any conservative in Louisiana even considering neutrality in this race is offensive in the extreme, it seems crazy that Jindal wouldn’t have immediately endorsed Dardenne. It also seems crazy that Jindal is making himself so cozy with some of these same folks.
One might even call into question this theory, posited by certain North Louisiana radioheads with overdeveloped opinions of their own political insight, that a Fayard in the Lieutenant Governor’s mansion would keep Jindal from leaving for Washington after the 2012 elections. Jindal seems to have more concerns about backing Republicans for high office than he does taking coin from Fayard’s trial lawyer buddies; anybody really want to play Russian Roulette with the state’s No. 2 office in order to satisfy a desire for retribution about the 10-year old Stelly tax?