Louisiana’s Uncompetitive Democrat Party

Last night I did an interview with Ashley Rodrigue from WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge on the state of this fall’s gubernatorial election, and from separate perspectives we came to the same conclusion – it doesn’t appear that the Louisiana Democrats have the resources to mount anything more than a feeble challenge to Bobby Jindal for the state’s top political job.

Ashley had me beat, though. She called Kevin Franck, the state Democrat Party’s media guy, to get a comment on who they’re going to run against Jindal. This was Franck’s response.

“With our state facing a nearly $2 billion budget deficit, Governor Jindal spent much of last year traveling the country to promote his book and raise campaign cash. Louisiana families would be better off if Jindal spent a little less time thinking about his own future and a little more time focused on theirs.”

I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.

And sad, too.

Franck was asked about the Dems’ chances of unseating Jindal and his $9 million in cash on hand, and all he could come up with is a couple of sentences bitching about the fact that Jindal was Oscar Mike for a good part of 2010.

But it does appear that Franck’s statement is emblematic of Louisiana’s Democrats these days. They’re out of ideas, out of credibility – and, this fall, so far it looks like they’re out of candidates.

Have you heard of one single credible story about a Democrat candidate for governor in the upcoming cycle? Me neither. And I’m looking for one.

It didn’t quite make it to television last night, but Ashley and I were of similar conclusions on the lateness of the hour in terms of a challenge to Jindal. By this point if you expect to run against an incumbent of Jindal’s stature – sure, he’s got lots of detractors at this point, but the governor towers over the statewide political scene at present like only a select few before him have – you’d better have statewide name recognition, a coherent message, some built-in constituencies and a whole lot of money.

What Democrats can boast those?

Kathleen Blanco has some money. She still has some $2-3 million sitting in a campaign account, which isn’t a terrible start, and the former governor isn’t a no-name. But Blanco was, in the estimation of most of the state’s voters, a failure as governor. In fact, it was her perceived ineptitude and shaky leadership during Hurricane Katrina that started Louisiana on its current course of activist conservatism (a course sped in large measure by the Obama administration’s detrimental policies). So that name recognition isn’t exactly a positive.

Blanco used to have some built-in constituencies as well, namely women voters and lots of folks in south-central and southwestern Louisiana who thought she’d be good for the oil business. At this point, no Democrat can get votes out of the oil patch in Louisiana; not while the Obamoratorium continues.

So Blanco is out, unless she wants to be a sacrificial lamb for the party.

John Georges is a Democrat these days, and Georges has the cash to go toe-to-toe with Jindal. He has some name recognition, after having run a pretty expensive campaign for governor in 2007 and a similarly expensive campaign for mayor of New Orleans last year. But Georges didn’t win either race. In fact, he didn’t come close. He was a blip in the polls. And given that Georges started off as a Republican, then switched to Independent in advance of the 2007 gubernatorial race before becoming a Democrat in advance of running against Mitch Landrieu in the Crescent City, it’s going to be very difficult for him to cobble much of a message together – much less mobilize a constituency.

Beyond those two, it’s pretty slim pickings.

If you’re looking for an up-and-comer in the Democrats’ ranks, Caroline Fayard is probably the best you can get. She isn’t going to run, though – at least not from the way it looks. Fayard managed to spend an inordinate amount of money in last year’s special election race for Lieutenant Governor, though the vast majority of it was cash laundered from her father Calvin, the famed plaintiff attorney. The state’s media hardly picked up on what was the most egregious breach of political ethics since Edwin Edwards vacated the scene while this was going on, but if something like that were to happen again in a gubernatorial race it’s impossible for it to remain unnoticed – particularly if Jindal and his millions in campaign cash felt like making it an issue with :30 spots on radio and TV.

Besides, Jindal has done something which would make conservatives’ skins crawl but turns out to have been pretty smart politically; he’s co-opted a good many of Fayard’s fellows at the trial bar. The governor had a much-talked about $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at John Houghtaling’s place on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans in September, with a great number of the bigger movers and shakers in attendance. Your typical Louisiana Republican will want to spit on the floor thinking about that, but it does wonders to chop the legs out from someone like Fayard or others who would depend on big dollars from the plaintiff lawyers to get a campaign going.

And that probably kills the chances of some other Democrats who might want to move up, like state legislators John Bel Edwards, Joel Chaisson (who says he’s not going to run) or Eric LaFleur, or even Rob Marionneaux – all of whom are trial lawyers and come out of a John Edwardsy mold (sans the love chirren).

But the Dems have to find somebody to run at the top of the ticket. If they don’t, what already looks like a bad down-ballot cycle for them given the current direction of the party affiliations in the legislature might become a complete rout. They have to find somebody who can mobilize their core constituencies – teachers and other non-law enforcement public employees and most importantly African-Americans – or else the 19-20 state senators they’ll have in this spring’s session will dwindle to 10-12, and they might end up in the low 30’s in seats in the House of Representatives. At present it looks like they’ll be fighting a huge uphill battle to take back any of the statewide positions; state treasurer John Kennedy has $1.36 million in the bank, Buddy Caldwell is sitting on a half-million dollars for re-election as attorney general and Jay Dardenne has $150,000 or so to start off with as the lieutenant governor. It’s possible the Secretary of State race can be won by the right Democrat, but unseating Mike Strain ($185,000 in the bank) as Agriculture Commissioner or Jim Donelon ($400,000) as Insurance Commissioner look like very tough assignments.

In other words, they’ve got to find some sign of life on the ballot, and it probably has to be against Jindal if they’re going to animate any of their voters for the legislative races. Dardenne, Kennedy, Caldwell, Strain and Donelon just don’t piss off enough people to get many of the Democrats’ marginal voters out to the polls. Jindal might, even if he can’t be beaten.

And the guess here is this thing will turn on race.

Because you can get 30-35 percent of the vote just by mobilizing the black community, and because you’ll have some similar percentage of the House and Senate districts available to you if you’re the Democrats on a demographic basis, your best chance to run a bad candidate who doesn’t need a whole lot of money and can inflict a little damage on Jindal to get people out to the polls would be to find somebody like Cleo Fields and run him.

Fields might actually be the perfect candidate, as it happens. He likes publicity, as evidenced by the lawsuit he filed on behalf of a half-dozen or so SUNO students against Jindal this week alleging that the Board of Regents can’t study a merger between SUNO and UNO because it’s unconstitutionally constituted. Fields said that Jindal tossed all the black Regents in December and replaced them with white guys, which the state constitution forbids, and got an African-American judge in the 19th JDC’s Janice Clark to issue him a temporary restraining order to stop the merger study. Jindal answered yesterday afternoon with a motion to lift the TRO, and he’ll probably get it.

The SUNO-UNO merger is a VERY animating issue among all of the remaining Democrat constituencies in the state – the higher ed people don’t like the idea of reducing the roster of universities and hate the larger fact that budget cuts are being made, the black community is spitting mad about it, and Orleans Parish voters think the city is getting the bad end of the stick because Jindal offered up SUNO as the first campus for reduction. Somebody like Fields, who has now put himself back in the spotlight, is a pretty good water-carrier for what could be the Democrats’ only real narrative this fall.

Namely this: Jindal doesn’t care about Louisiana people. He doesn’t care about the state’s future. He’s sacrificing our long-term prosperity for the sake of his own career, and he’ll be gone to Washington at his first opportunity. And poor SUNO, which has never gotten the resources it needs, is getting the worst of it – because SUNO’s students are black and Jindal doesn’t care about black people. And SUNO is in New Orleans and Jindal hates New Orleans. Mostly because there are lots of black people in New Orleans, and like we said Jindal doesn’t care about black people.

Or our kids. Or our working people. Or our future. He just cares about rich fat cats. And most of them are white.

It’s a hard-left message, it’s a really negative message and it won’t win the governor’s race. But it will get you 35-40 percent of the vote, probably. And it’s likely President Obama will make a trip or two down to Louisiana to help out whoever carries that water. Such a message might also attract a few national lefty tilters at windmills – anxious as many are to discredit Jindal and perhaps show a Republican southern state to be a bastion of racism, which is a popular Progressive pastime.

Don’t be surprised if that’s the race we end up with this fall. One would hope we could do better. But after what the state’s Democrats gave us with Charlie Melancon’s race about hookers and Fayard’s laundry last year, and after what Franck had to say to Ms. Rodrigue when she merely asked for a comment on the party’s plans for a candidate, it’s hard to imagine they’ll mount a campaign with much else to offer.

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