Statewide Elections: Where Are We Six Days Out?

The statewide election is less than a week away, so it’s time to take a look at political campaigns that are unique in Louisiana history. Republican Party dominance stands out above everything else in a state where a generation ago voters had to be registered Democrats in order to cast ballots.

Republicans occupy the state’s seven statewide elected positions, and that isn’t expected to change after next Saturday.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s almost-guaranteed re-election before the polls even open may be another first. He seems destined to join four other men who have served back-to-back terms — Murphy J. Foster (1892-1900), John J. McKeithen (1964-1972), Edwin W. Edwards (1972-80) and Murphy J. “Mike” Foster (1996-2004), the grandson of the other Foster. State law prohibited successive terms after the earlier Foster served, but it was changed to two terms during the McKeithen administration.

The latest poll shows Jindal favored by 57 percent of those surveyed. His nine opponents combined could only rack up 15 percent support, and 29 percent were undecided. Look for many of the undecided voters to back Jindal, so his margin of victory should be significant.

Jindal has had so much time and campaign money to throw around we have witnessed another unusual feature of this election. The governor is giving contributions to both unopposed candidates and those with opposition. He seems determined to try and gain complete control of the legislative process, picking House and Senate leaders and naming committee chairmen and members.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is trying to compete with Jindal for state Republican Party dominance, but he has credibility problems with many voters.

The reform of the state’s public education system is another one of Jindal’s major goals. He is handpicking candidates for the policymaking state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in his effort to enact the changes he wants to see in the system. For good or bad, it is unprecedented for a governor to become that deeply involved in the education process.

Two of the most spirited statewide campaigns have pitted Republicans against Republicans. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne is being challenged in his re-election bid by Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish. Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who succeeded Dardenne when he won his current post last year, faces Speaker of the House Jim Tucker.

Dardenne, who resides in Baton Rouge, is the only one of the four from outside the New Orleans metropolitan area. Nungesser has pulled out all the stops in his effort to unseat Dardenne. Nungesser has put up $1 million of his own money and launched a TV blitz that inaccurately characterizes Dardenne’s record as a state senator, secretary of state and lieutenant governor.

The most recent debate involving the two candidates clearly demonstrated that Dardenne is better qualified for the job. Nungesser has tried to capitalize on his national TV exposure during the BP oil spill, but that is about all voters know about his political past.

Schedler and Tucker are both qualified to be secretary of state. Schedler has been an effective secretary of state, and Tucker has a good record as House speaker. Incumbents usually have an edge, but this one may come down to which candidate has the best name recognition.

Mike Strain has become perhaps the most knowledgeable state commissioner of agriculture Louisiana has ever had. His best achievement was defeat of Bob Odom, who dominated that office for much too long. Strain immediately began cleaning house and giving the Department of Agriculture and Forestry a great reputation for service and accomplishment.

Nothing against his two opponents, but Strain deserves another term.

Jim Donelon is state insurance commissioner, and he has one opponent. The Department of Insurance has come a long way after three consecutive commissioners went to prison. Insurance companies have started coming back into the state, and that has made it possible to reduce the number of state-backed policies that are expensive for citizens who can’t buy insurance on the open market.

Most area legislators are unopposed, but Calcasieu Parish is involved in two area contests.

James David Cain, R-Dry Creek, who is already drawing two state retirement paychecks, is a candidate for his former state Senate seat. Sen. John Smith, R-Leesville, is the incumbent in District 30. Terry Fowler, D-Calcasieu Parish, is the third candidate in that race.

State Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, DDry Creek, is being challenged by John Arthur Williams, no party-Singer. There are 28 Calcasieu Parish precincts in House District 32.

So there you have it, except for local contests and issues in individual parishes. The governor’s race may already be decided, but voters should give serious consideration to the contest for lieutenant governor. It’s a case of going with someone we know vs. a relatively unknown candidate. Remember that whoever occupies that office is only one step away from the top job.

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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