Is Rob Marionneaux The Dems’ New Hope For 2011?

He’s at least thinking about it. Out loud. In front of reporters.

State Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia, said Monday that New Orleans area businesspeople looking for a suitable candidate to oppose incumbent Bobby Jindal are pressing him to run for governor.

“I think anybody who gets in the race garners 40 percent of the vote,” said Marionneaux, who is term-limited from seeking another term as senator and has cooled on a previously announced bid to run for sheriff.

So far, Jindal’s only announced opponent is a North Louisiana schoolteacher.

Marionneaux admitted it would be a difficult task to made a late start in the statewide race against an incumbent with a $10 million war chest.

“But I don’t think it’s insurmountable,” he said. “I’ve always liked challenges, and that certainly would be one.”

This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, as state Dem chairman Buddy Leach threw Marionneaux’s name out as a potential statewide candidate a couple of weeks ago in a speech.

Marionneaux’s record as a state senator has been mixed. For example, it was his bill in the recently-concluded legislative session which increased the size of the tax credit allowed for folks with children in private schools, and one could make the argument that the Democrat is as strong a proponent of school choice as Jindal is. School choice and educational accountability will, some observers say, be THE issues in this fall’s campaigns.

But while Marionneaux’s more well-known legislative initiative, a repeal of the state income tax, is also a conservative cause celebre, his handling of that legislation was absolutely savaged by analysts who regarded it as a disingenuous attack on the business community. One reason for the negative reaction was that Marionneaux is a proponent of a frequently-rejected oil processing tax forwarded in the past by another potential Democrat gubernatorial candidate, “Bananas” Foster Campbell. He believes such a tax can replace the state income tax’s revenues, but doesn’t appear to recognize that a $3 billion tax hit to the state’s petrochemical industry will likely send the refineries and chemical plants packing along with the jobs they provide.

And then there are the ethics issues. Marionneaux got himself in some hot water due to a somewhat shady action in which he took on a local contractor as a legal client and in the midst of settlement negotiations with LSU essentially offered to author a bill at the legislature to appropriate funds to pay his client. The state Board of Ethics has jumped into the fray on that affair and it’s still not concluded; it’s generally regarded as bad political form to have a major ethics complaint hanging over your head when you run for a statewide office like governor.

But with all his warts, and there are lots of them, Marionneaux is at least a theatrical sort who will earn some media attention. He’ll present an old-line Bourbon Democrat persona, and you’ll hear John Breaux’s name thrown around by comparison if he gets in the race. Marionneaux’s Senate district included LSU, meaning he’d probably run on how Jindal has gutted higher education – something the state’s Democrats have been trying unsuccessfully to make hay out of – and he’s got enough hot air to him and enough legislative contacts that he could maybe rally a coalition of academics, black voters and state employees to the 40 percent he thinks is possible against Jindal.

And if Caroline Fayard could have managed to create a status as a rising star in Louisiana politics (right up to the point when she became a laughingstock with that “I Hate Republicans” gaffe) based on a 43 percent showing in the Lt. Governor’s race last year, Marionneaux getting to 40 percent against Jindal might make him something of a player for statewide office. There are those who have put his name forth as a potential congressional challenger to Bill Cassidy next year, though that’s a pretty hopeless cause.

Winning this fall, though? Not likely. If Marionneaux does get in, it’s because he’s willing to take one for the team and be a hero to his buddies at the state party. Even he’s got to know he’ll be beaten bloody this fall.

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