Nungesser vs. Dardenne: This’ll Be Fun

It’s been rumored for a while that Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser was going to run for lieutenant governor. Nungesser’s name even came up last year when the job opened up after Mitch Landrieu was elected mayor of New Orleans. And over the weekend the Baton Rouge Advocate had a writeup of Nungesser’s potential candidacy.

Hayride sources say it’s now all but a done deal; Nungesser’s declaration for the race is coming.

“I am seriously considering it. We need a salesman for this parish, for this state that is 100 percent doing it for the right reason,” Nungesser told the Advocate.

Nungesser, whose family is an extremely prominent one in Louisiana Republican circles – his father William was one of the people responsible for building the party practically from scratch – emerged as a media star last year following the BP oil spill and the Obama administration’s lousy handling of it. The portly, outspoken, no-nonsense and eminently quotable conservative could be a formidable candidate in the race – and will absolutely offer voters a stark difference in style from Dardenne, if not necessarily ideology.

Dardenne, who ascended to the lieutenant governor’s seat with 57-43 victory over Caroline Fayard in November’s special-election runoff, has a carefully-crafted image as an honest, competent, low-key and unobjectionable public servant. Conservatives in Louisiana still chafe somewhat at his voting record while a state Senator, though, and he struggled to achieve support from Tea Party groups until he made the runoff with Fayard last year.

Low-key has never described Nungesser.

Word has it that Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has been loath to get involved in other races and was conspicuously absent from endorsing Dardenne even in the runoff last year, would endorse Nungesser. Word also has it that Nungesser would get the endorsement from last year’s third-place finisher, Sammy Kershaw. And Landrieu, who despite his ideological differences with Nungesser is a friend, could be on board with him as well if no Democrat makes the race.

Dardenne nevertheless has considerable support throughout the state and would open with an advantage in North Louisiana, where Nungesser hasn’t yet campaigned, and in Baton Rouge. And the difference in style between the two candidates has the makings of a fascinating Louisiana political campaign – one which almost came about last year.

“I was asked to run the last time he ran,” Nungesser said of Dardenne, “but decided against it.” But Nungesser said at the time he opted not to run last year that he’d commissioned a poll on his chances of winning, and he could win.

“When I saw the results, I was overwhelmed to see the level of support statewide I would have for such an office,” said his statement back in June of last year. “After deep thought and consideration, I have decided that in the best interest of Plaquemines Parish and during this oil spill crisis, I need to stay and fight for our people, our parish, our coast and our way of life.”

But there is already a major issue in the campaign on which Nungesser and Dardenne have staked out different sides; namely, the $30 million in tourism dollars BP is giving the state. Nungesser is complaining that the Lieutenant Governor’s plan to spread the $30 million over the state’s 64 parishes is a terrible idea, since the parishes away from the coast weren’t hit by the BP spill. That, plus what Nungesser says was a heavy-handed $3.2 million state marketing campaign developed by Dardenne without input of local leaders makes for the underpinnings of his campaign.

Dardenne’s position is that the campaign was crafted in consultation with tourism and seafood industry officials, and that Nungesser is the only one complaining about it. And he also says that the BP tourism money disbursement wasn’t his idea; that plan was agreed upon before he took over as lieutenant governor. He’s not happy with the plan, either, since the state government is only getting $6.5 million of the $30 million and he thinks the state’s tourism office could do the best job with the money.

Audio of both sides can be found here.



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