The Vitter-Jindal Power Tussle

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not terribly excited about the prospects of U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Gov. Bobby Jindal deciding who should hold public office in Louisiana.

Both Republicans enjoy widespread popularity with the state’s voters because of their extremely conservative political views. However, they want even more.

If you haven’t noticed that the two of them are jockeying for ultimate control, you haven’t been keeping up with recent events.

Vitter got into the game in 2005 when he and influential businessmen organized the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority. The group has already spent more than $3 million to help elect conservative legislators.

Jindal didn’t fare so well at the spring legislative session, so he is duplicating Vitter’s effort. The governor has created a “victory fund” and will use the $2 million he hopes to raise to try and elect legislators who are more friendly to his causes.

Vitter trumps Jindal

Not to be outdone, Vitter contributed $10,000 to Jindal’s fund.

The Advocate of Baton Rouge reported that Vitter sent the governor a note saying, “Congrats on your decision to help the Republican Party elect more strong conservatives to the Legislature. Enclosed is a check for that effort from my campaign fund. Fight, lead, be bold!”

Vitter even took an additional step. He endorsed Jindal for re-election, even though the governor kept quiet during the senator’s re-election campaign last year.

Endorsing Jindal at this late stage is no big deal because he has a lock on the job for another four years. And maybe the fact both men are having little trouble getting re-elected gives them too much time on their hands to meddle in legislative and other political races.

Vitter appears ready to pick a favorite in each of the Oct. 22 campaigns for statewide office. He has already endorsed Jindal, state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and Jim Tucker, speaker of the House, who has jumped into the race for secretary of state. Tucker is term-limited in the House.

Tom Schedler, who became secretary of state when former secretary Jay Dardenne was elected lieutenant governor, is seeking a full term. Here is his reply to Vitter’s endorsement of Tucker.

“Even the great jockey Calvin Borel sometimes picks the wrong horse …,” Schedler said.

Jindal hasn’t endorsed anyone running for statewide office, but he wouldn’t be likely to endorse Tucker anyway. The speaker didn’t exactly endear himself to the governor when he bucked Jindal on some major issues.

While Vitter is picking and choosing, Jindal is bringing in a big gun to raise money for his victory fund. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will headline a Sept. 29 fund-raiser at a private residence in Baton Rouge, according to a report in The Advocate.

The newspaper said tickets start at $10,000 and top out at $100,000.

Timmy Teepell, Jindal’s chief of staff who is on leave to direct the governor’s re-election effort, expressed his usual confidence and bravado.

“This is going to be the event where we raise money to make it all happen,” Teepell said.

Jindal enjoys an edge over Vitter when it comes to picking leaders and members of the Legislature. Louisiana governors have always played a major role in selecting speakers of the House, presidents of the state Senate and chairmen of committees.

After his 2007 election, Jindal said he wouldn’t pick the House speaker like other governors had done. He said he would wait and see who could get the 53 votes needed to be elected. Four days later, he threw his support to Tucker.

The governor also had a strong hand in the selection of Senate President Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan, who is also term-limited. Chaisson could become a candidate for statewide office.

Jindal is taking a more aggressive stance this time around. He has already met with the candidates for both of the top jobs.

No holds barred

“We plan to get more involved after qualifying (Sept. 6-8),” Jindal told the Monroe News-Star. “We’ve been meeting with everyone who has expressed interest. We want to make sure the leaders are in place who are committed to continue to support the reforms that will grow jobs in Louisiana.”

Re-election will give Jindal an even stronger hand over the next four years. You can be sure he doesn’t want a repeat of the defeats he suffered at the last session,

Jindal will also play a strong role in the little-known races for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. He wants reform-minded, charter school supporters on BESE and wants the board to approve his selection for state superintendent of education.

Supporters of local school boards that have resisted changes in education will also have their candidates.

Vitter, meanwhile, appears to also be thinking about the 2012 congressional elections, but denies that’s the case. He is holding political forums with fellow conservatives like U.S. Reps. John Fleming, R-Shreveport, and Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia.

“I haven’t even begun to think about that (next year’s elections),” Vitter said.

How many times have we heard politicians make statements like that and then expect us to believe them?

It’s obvious that Vitter and Jindal are feeling their oats and are trying to outdo one another to become the Republican kingmaker in Louisiana. That is their right, of course, but something about their manipulations in the pursuit of political dominance gives me an uneasy feeling.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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