It’s Launch Time For 2011 Louisiana Elections

The fall election season is fast approaching, and incumbents and hopefuls haven’t been wasting time waiting for the big show. Most of them have been lining up support and raising money.

“Tell me about it,” said a friend of mine, adding that he has a big stack of requests for contributions.

Others have been switching to the Republican Party in efforts to enhance their chances. Democratic Party officials aren’t happy about the changes, calling them examples of “political opportunism.”

Maybe so, but isn’t that what politicians do?

The campaigns went public last week when statewide officeholders filed their campaign finance reports. And a state representative from New Orleans broke the ice when he e-mailed an announcement saying he is running for secretary of state.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has made it crystal clear for a long time now that he plans to seek a second term. And he is sitting pretty with $9.2 million to spend on his campaign. He is still raising money all across the country. He paid visits to Texas and Missouri last week.

Not bad for a candidate who doesn’t have any announced opposition at this point. However, if past gubernatorial elections are a barometer, Jindal will have to campaign.

Everybody wants in

Something about the governor’s race always brings a dozen or more candidates out of the woodwork, some at the last minute whose chances are slim to none. There were 17 candidates on the ballot in 2003 when Kathleen Blanco was elected and 12 in 2007 when Jindal was elected in the primary.

Timing is always critical in campaigns, and it may already be too late for even serious gubernatorial candidates to mount effective campaigns.

“You’ve got to start right now. In fact, it may be late,” Randy Ewing of Quitman told The Advocate of Baton Rouge over three months ago. Ewing is a former president of the state Senate who ran for governor in 2003.

Jindal’s out-of-state fundraising trips cost him some support, but his odds are improving.

A poll done last November found that only 39 percent of those surveyed definitely favored Jindal. However, another poll conducted in January found 49 percent of voters were ready to re-elect the governor.

Pollster Verne Kennedy told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans Jindal would have trouble if a well-funded Democrat and a tea party candidate entered the race. Neither of those seems likely at the moment, but anything is possible in politics.

State Rep. Walker Hines of New Orleans announced he will be running for secretary of state. Hines is a relative newcomer and will face some stiff opposition. Tom Schedler of Mandeville, a former state senator and the current secretary of state, is also running.

Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell of Tallulah is the latest Republican Party convert on the statewide scene. His party switch leaves U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu as the only statewide Democratic official.

“We’ve finally reached the point where average, garden-variety (conservative) Democrats felt compelled to change,” political scientist Pearson Cross told The Times-Picayune after Caldwell’s switch. “Anybody with any kind of ambition statewide, now they’re feeling they have to be a Republican or it’s not going to happen.”

Democratic Party officials are trying to keep a stiff upper lip amidst the party changes, but we haven’t seen the last of the switches.

“I’m not going to pretend that it’s anything but bad news for the party,” state Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite told The Times of Shreveport. “But it’s not the end of the world.”

Edwards is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Two longtime state legislators openly admitted political ambition had a lot to do with them deserting the Democratic ranks.

State Sen. John Alario of Westwego said, “Whether I’m a Democrat or Republican or in the Whig party, I’d like to be president of the (state) Senate.”

Alario could be re-elected from his conservative district whatever his party affiliation. And you have to admire his honesty.

State Rep. Noble Ellington of Winnsboro said he wants to be speaker of the House and becoming a Republican enhances his chances.

Other statewide races

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne of Baton Rouge won his office in a special election last November with 57 percent of the vote. He shouldn’t have any trouble winning a full four-year term. Voters usually like to give newly elected officeholders more time to see how they stack up.

Treasurer John Kennedy, insurance commissioner Jim Donelon and agriculture commissioner Mike Strain will enjoy incumbency advantages in their bids for new terms.

All or most of them should expect to have some opposition. State Senate President Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan, for example, is term-limited and his campaign finance report said he plans to seek a statewide office. Scott Angelle, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, is also eyeing a statewide contest.

Democrats may be angry enough at Caldwell for switching parties to try and field a strong candidate against him. Sen. Landrieu said as much.

“Buddy Caldwell was elected attorney general with strong backing from Democratic supporters, including many African-American voters,” Landrieu told The Times-Picayune. “It is disappointing to see him turn away from his support.”

That’s pretty much the way this fall’s major elections are shaping up at this point. However, it’s only the beginning. In Louisiana politics, a lot can happen between now and the Oct. 22 primary and the Nov. 19 general election.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press (where this piece originally appeared), has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].



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