At The Pelican State Pachyderms Tonight

A transcript of a speech I gave to the Pelican State Pachyderms down in New Orleans this evening. Thanks to Rita Bezou and Walt Bennetti for the invitation, and for the spread at Five Happiness…

The Conservative Opportunity In Louisiana Is Now

I’m the first member of my family to register as a Republican at 18. Some of the rest of the group are still Democrats. But we’re all pretty conservative and the idea of voting for Obama was worse than a joke for us.

And I would argue my family is pretty typical.

The older generations in my clan were all registered Democrats, because 30-40 years ago there was no Republican Party in Louisiana. Or at least what passed for a GOP wasn’t worth taking seriously. Until Dave Treen came along and managed a Joseph Cao-like head-scratcher of an election thanks to our jungle primary system, the Republicans couldn’t win an election on a statewide basis.

And when I was 17, I volunteered in Bob Livingston’s campaign for governor. I got pretty good at putting up yard signs – I ended up with the job of running an installation crew all over Uptown, Lakeview and Old Metairie. Earned me a trunk full of signs and stakes and a couple hands full of splinters. And a lot of disappointment, too, when Buddy Roemer rode that I-know-my-Dad-was-an-Edwards-crony-and-he’s-in-jail-but-I’m-a-new-kind-of-Democrat-trust-me vibe to steal a spot in the runoff away from Livingston.

At that point it wasn’t hard to get discouraged about whether Louisiana’s GOP would ever become a force in state politics. Things didn’t really get better from there – Roemer switched to our side, then came in third as David Duke ended up as “the Republican” in the 1991 election. That was an embarrassment for the ages. And four years later we basically gave up the store to Mike Foster, who governed Louisiana as an absentee landlord from 1995-2003. And then we couldn’t beat Kathleen Blanco, which was enough to make any of us just hang our heads.

But it’s amazing how things change. Because a whole generation of conservatives, who like me were reared on Ronald Reagan, are now beginning to take over the levers of power. We’ve got a governor who, while he tends to drive us nuts, is the closest thing to a conservative we’ve ever seen, we’ve got all the statewide offices save for the Attorney General (and we’re coming for him next year), we’ve got a slew of flat-out fantastic conservatives in Congress and we’re on the cusp of majorities in both houses of the state legislature. Perhaps even before next year’s elections, which everyone thinks we will dominate.

And the Louisiana Democrat Party, that rancid, despicable, filthy and evil organization which for so long has presided over class warfare, political corruption, restricted freedom and perfidious lies piled on top of lies, is in complete ruins. It’s so bad for them that even John Alario, who for decades represented everything we hated about Louisiana politics courtesy of the Edwin Edwards machine, is now calling himself one of us.

Not to mention the fact that their “rising star” Caroline Fayard, who got drummed by 14 points in the Lt. Gov. election last month, was only remotely competitive thanks to one of the most blatant, brazen affronts to campaign finance laws in Louisiana history. Fayard’s father laundered the better part of a million dollars through the state Democrat Party to her campaign, and after a small part of that sum became public knowledge thanks to our reporting on the Hayride they failed to make finance reports until yesterday. And now that they finally have, we know that Fayard, his family, his business interests and his cronies contributed over $800,000 to the state Democrat Party in amounts directly in concert with expenditures the party made on behalf of Caroline’s campaign. Earmarking donations to political parties or PAC’s for specific campaigns is in violation of campaign finance laws, but it’s not just that. The Fayard campaign sold us on the idea that she was this hot young candidate with lots of support all over the state, but that was a lie – she ran a fortune in media and put hundreds of thousands of dollars on the street, and at the end of the day all she got was 43 percent against a Republican who at the end of the day a lot of us weren’t even all that excited about.

In other words, they’re dead as a political force in Louisiana. Finished. You can wait until next year to dance on their graves if you want, but I’m here to tell you they’ve gone the way of the dodo. And that makes me happy, because there is no more discredited, disgraceful organization in America than the Louisiana Democrat Party.

In short, the day most of us never thought would come is upon us. We are now a governing majority in our state. Those of you imprisoned here in Orleans Parish, you’ve got my sympathy. Just know that you’re in the last bastion of Democrat misrule in Louisiana. We may not be able to rescue you anytime soon, but we are in a position to airdrop supplies and ammunition from time to time now. You might still be skulking in the jungles subsisting on rainwater and grubworms, but at least there’s hope.

And this means an opportunity to make massive changes. The kinds of changes that can transform our state from a laughingstock to a nationally and even internationally competitive market on lots of levels.

Now, while we’ve got a governor who is generally on our side we’ve noticed that he’s a little less bold than we might like. Gov. Jindal had a chance to do away with the state’s income tax, and he blanched at it. He’s got an opportunity to eliminate a number of obsolete state agencies and functions, like for example the Charity system which increasingly looms as an albatross around our necks thanks to the changes to the way the federal government funds healthcare, and he’s just not up to wiping them out. He’s got a state treasurer who’s touring the state touting a plan to kill $2 billion in annual spending, and he’s resisting. He’s got a growing consensus for a total revamp of the higher ed system in the state, and he’s a bit timid about it to say the least.

Whether this is something Jindal is trying to put off until after next year’s elections, when he’s got to know he’s going to get the best legislature we’ll have seen in this state since W.C.C. Claiborne was governor, we don’t know. But it’s up to us to start pushing him. Bernie (Pinsonat) is going to speak shortly about what the polls say, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to tell you that Louisiana’s voters are looking for hard-core fiscal conservatism. We in this state want less state employees, less bureaucracy, more accountability and more freedom. I think Jindal would like to give us that, but bold, bombastic and risky governance simply isn’t his style. He’s an incrementalist by nature.

So our job, now that we have this political power, is to use it. We’ve got to hammer Jindal and our legislators, and we’ve got to demand cuts to the size and scope of government. I’m not going to say that we won’t get this chance again, because I think we are the new normal in this state. What I will say, though, is that if we expect to make real changes we’re going to need to prove we’re up to the task. When Jindal sees the public is out in front of him on the big issues of the day, he’ll move to meet us.

And with that, I’ll stop my blabbering. Let’s take some questions…



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