Jindal And Other Statewide Pols Sitting Pretty

Gov. Bobby Jindal said he isn’t taking any of his nine challengers lightly in the Oct. 22 primary, but he could. Chalk up 2011 as an election year for incumbents.

Jindal won in the primary in 2007 with 53.9 percent of the vote, and his margin this year should be even larger. The governor had 12 opponents in 2007, and three of them were fairly well-known. Not so this time around.

The nine challengers this year have barely caused a ripple on the political recognition scale. You knew the state Democratic Party wasn’t interested in taking on Jindal. It failed to give anything but lip service to Tara Hollis, a Haynesville teacher and party member who showed courage by entering the race early.

Jindal told reporters early last week he will serve his full four-year term, indicating a run for president or vice president isn’t in his plans.

State Treasurer John Kennedy is the only statewide official who is unopposed, but three of the other five picked up only token opposition at the last minute.

The odds are that state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell of Tallulah, Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain of Covington and Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon of Metairie will have little trouble winning new four-year terms.

Only two statewide races promise some fireworks, and both feature Republicans running against Republicans.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne of Baton Rouge is being challenged by Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish who made national news during the BP oil spill crisis. Nungesser is painting himself as the only true conservative in the race. However, he endorsed Dardenne in a special election last year.

Secretary of State Tom Schedler of Mandeville, first assistant at the time, stepped up to his current job after Dardenne was elected lieutenant governor. He and Speaker of the House Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, Schedler’s opponent, have already started throwing punches at one another.

Incumbents in the Legislature are also doing well. The state Senate has 18 of its 39 members who are unopposed. There are 12 who have opposition, and new candidates will be seeking 7 seats.

Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, was re-elected to the District 25 seat. Sen. John Smith, R-Leesville, has two opponents.

Two new senators were unopposed. They are former state Rep. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, who will fill Sen. Willie Mount’s seat. Mount is term-limited and is running for Calcasieu Parish tax assessor.

Rep. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, won the District 23 Senate seat.

The House has 40 of its 105 members returning who were unopposed. Among that number are Reps. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur; Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff; Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles; Johnny Guinn, R-Jennings; Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, who represents Cameron Parish; and Frank Howard, R-Many, who represents part of Vernon Parish.

Danahay, Geymann and Kleckley were also unopposed in 2007.

There are 38 House members who have opposition. Among those from this area are Reps. A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles; James Armes, D-Leesville; and Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek.

New candidates will be competing for 27 House seats.

Members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education weren’t so lucky. Six of the eight elected members have opponents. One incumbent is unopposed and another isn’t seeking re-election. The three others on the 11-member board are appointed by the governor.

A struggle for control of public education is under way, and those campaigns will be spirited. Jindal leads the reformer element of the board that wants to shake up what it calls an ineffective education system. Teacher unions, school board members and superintendents have lined up candidates to fight what they call an effort to privatize and destroy public education.

Dale Bayard of Sulphur represents the 7th BESE District, and he sides with the latter group. Holly Buffy of Youngsville, a former teacher, has the governor’s support.

Among local officials who are unopposed for re-election are Calcasieu Sheriff Tony Mancuso, Clerk of Court Lynn Jones, coroner Terry Welke and police jurors Shannon Spell of Moss Bluff, Elizabeth Griffin, Dennis Scott and Guy Brame, all three of Lake Charles, Les Farnum of Sulphur and Sandy Treme of DeQuincy.

So many officeholders are unopposed, you have to wonder why. Are the voters that satisfied with their records, or is it because they have lost interest in politics?

It’s probably a combination of both, but most legislators and other public officials in this corner of the state have demonstrated over the years that they have the voters’ interests at heart and good voting records.

Take, for example, the controversial and ill-fated legislative pay raise that Jindal vetoed in 2008 after saying he wouldn’t interfere with the legislative decision.

Voting against it from the start were Morrish, Mount, Danahay, Geymann, Guinn, Hill, Howard and Kleckley. Franklin was the only area House member to vote for the increase.

The pay raise vote was expected to be a major factor in the fall elections, but that apparently isn’t the case. Some who voted for it are unopposed and legislators for and against it have opposition.

Look for a fairly quiet election season in light of the many public officials who are unopposed. Those glory days of colorful Louisiana political campaigns could be a thing of a past.

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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