Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne must be saying to himself, “Here we go again.” An opponent in Dardenne’s bid for a full four-year term is touting the same old, tired-and-worn, bloated accusations the lieutenant governor has heard in each of his political campaigns.
If there is anything that gets my dander up, it’s slanderous campaigning that clouds the record of some of this state’s most distinguished public servants. And the perpetrators of these vicious attacks in Dardenne’s case have been — most of the time — members and leaders of his own Republican Party.
Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish, is Dardenne’s challenger in the Oct. 22 primary. His only claim to fame is the national exposure he got during the BP oil spill. Voters outside his parish know little about his political record.
Nungesser’s bluster got him headlines during the spill, so he’s trying it again. He is calling Dardenne a “big taxin’, illegal lovin’, liberal politician.”
“He has never seen a tax increase he doesn’t like,” Nungesser said. “In fact, this big taxin’ politician voted to raise taxes on our income, on what we buy, tuitions at our universities, even what we drink.”
Some background on Dardenne is in order. He served on the East Baton Rouge Metro Council before being elected to the state Senate in 1991.
While in the Senate, Dardenne championed the regulation of river pilots, a single assessor for Orleans Parish, consolidation of levee boards and the elimination of free tickets to sporting events for public officials.
Dardenne did handle the Stelly income plan in the Senate that has since been repealed. However, what his detractors always overlook is the fact that the plan also eliminated state sales taxes on food, utilities and prescription drugs. And it will take a vote of the people to bring those taxes back, which isn’t going to happen.
Secretary of State Fox McKeithen died in 2006, and Dardenne ran to fill the unexpired term.
Two top Republicans sang Dardenne’s praises.
“The choice between Sens. Dardenne and (Francis) Heitmeier couldn’t be clearer,” Roger Villere, chairman of the state Republican Party, said after the two senators made the runoff. “Throughout his career Jay has been a model of integrity and has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to ethics reform in state government…”
It should be noted that Dardenne was promoting ethics before Gov. Bobby Jindal “made it cool.”
No less than U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, joined the chorus in support of Dardenne.
“Jay helped me pass the (state legislative) term limits constitutional amendment in the face of entrenched opposition from the Democratic leadership that was in power at the time,” Vitter said of Dardenne. “He has championed countless reform efforts that have been vigorously opposed by his opponent. The choice for moving Louisiana forward couldn’t be clearer.”
Does that sound anything like the man Nungesser is talking about?
Dardenne led in the special election primary on Sept. 30, 2006, and Heitmeier, his Democratic runoff opponent, dropped out of the race. Dardenne ran for a full four-year term in 2007, and won in the primary with 63 percent of the vote.
Mitch Landrieu was lieutenant governor in 2010 when he was elected mayor of New Orleans. Dardenne was a candidate for the unexpired term that doesn’t end until next January.
Dardenne led the primary with 27.6 percent of the vote among eight candidates. Democrat Caroline Fayard made the runoff with 24.3 percent. Dardenne defeated Fayard 57 to 43 percent in the general election.
Now, Dardenne is hearing some of the same clap-trap tossed at him in previous campaigns as he runs for a full term. And Vitter, who called Dardenne a clear choice five years ago, is backing Nungesser.
Go figure that one out. Vitter’s choice definitely says a lot about his quirky political views.
Dardenne told The Advocate of Baton Rouge the endorsement surprised him. And he got in a few licks of his own, apparently deciding it is time to fight back.
“I wonder if Billy failed to tell him (Vitter) that his records of parish president have been subpoenaed as part of an ongoing federal investigation; that he contributed to several national Democratic figures, including Barbara Boxer, one of the most liberal (U.S.) senators; and that his marina benefited from BP through the oil spill,” Dardenne told the newspaper.
The Advocate said Nungesser didn’t return a call to his cell phone seeking comment on those remarks.
Dardenne was right on target when he told the Alexandria Town Talk comparisons of candidate resumes and accomplishments would likely be drowned out by the political noise before the Oct. 22 election.
“Nungesser’s got a lot of money, and he’s going to use it to trash me …,” Dardenne told the newspaper.
Lost in the wild and reckless accusations being thrown around by Nungesser and others are the advances, savings and streamlining Dardenne has made in the offices of secretary of state and lieutenant governor.
Louisiana won’t find a better promoter of this state’s many pluses than Dardenne, and that is one of his major responsibilities. Don’t take my word for it. Go to the lieutenant governor’s website to see how it’s done.
Voters deserve to know the truth, and they aren’t getting it from Nungesser or Vitter. We can’t sit idly by and watch it happen.
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].