As Gomer Pyle on “The Andy Griffith Show” used to say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!”
U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry finally admitted he is running for re-election to Congress. The New Iberia Republican has played coy about his future political plans, but he was apparently the only person who wasn’t sure he was going to take on incumbent U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette. Now, he’s made it official.
The message Landry delivered to supporters is the one we will hear thousands of times between now and the Nov. 6 open primary. He plans to portray Boustany as a liberal, a career politician, a congressman who will do anything to hold on to his health care and retirement benefits, an insider who is too close to the Washington establishment and a supporter of raising the nation’s debt limit.
Landry picked up his first major endorsement months ago when the Tea Party of Louisiana said it drafted him to run for re-election. He is the tea party personified and will say and do anything to get attention and grab headlines. Getting results isn’t his major concern.
Supporters cheered the congressman when he held up a “Drilling equals jobs” sign during President Obama’s jobs creation speech to a joint session of Congress. The photo was widely circulated.
Landry called employees of the U.S. Interior Department the “Gestapo,” the name of the Nazi secret police in Hitler’s Germany. Those words were particularly hurtful to Michael Bromwich, head of the department’s drilling division, who is Jewish.
When the president in early-2011 called members of Congress to the White House to talk about the debt and deficit problems, Landry refused to attend. He called it a waste of time.
Stephanie Grace, a political writer for The Times-Picayune, summed up those antics well in one of her columns last September.
“Each time he got the attention he so clearly craves,” Grace said.
“What he didn’t get was much of anything for the people he represents…”
Landry is unapologetic about his actions.
“I’m going to employ any tactic I can think of to get someone’s attention,” he said.
Boustany and no one else should underestimate the lengths to which Landry will go to win. He captured his current 3rd Congressional District seat by destroying the political reputation of former state Speaker of the House Hunt Downer.
Downer was a state representative from 1976 to 2004, served as assistant adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard and was the first director of the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs. Landry portrayed Downer as a tax-and-spend liberal, a convenient campaign tactic that voters have seen people like him use over and over again. Fortunately, it doesn’t always work.
Louisiana is losing a seat in the U.S. House, and redistricting has forced Boustany and Landry into the same district. If Landry and the tea party had prevailed during the Legislature’s redistricting session last year, Calcasieu and Jefferson Davis parish voters wouldn’t even be voting in the newly drawn 3rd District. They wanted to put the whole or parts of those parishes into the 4th District that stretches all the way to Shreveport.
Boustany’s Republican colleagues, the Louisiana party hierarchy and Gov. Bobby Jindal even ganged up against him to try and protect two north Louisiana GOP congressmen. Thanks to a coordinated political effort between Lake Charles and Lafayette, Boustany’s current 7th District remained pretty much intact.
Landry has another ace up his sleeve. He and U.S Sen. David Vitter, R-La., have become bosom buddies, and Landry doesn’t miss an opportunity to play up the connection.
“Sen. Vitter joined me in voting no (on raising the debt limit) and requested me to join him at his forums in Lake Charles and Lafayette, explaining why this vote was, in and of itself, a disaster for our nation,” Landry said.
The Times-Picayune calls Landry “a nimble and natural campaigner with an infectious personality.” Ask people who meet him for the first time, and they will say he gave them the impression he’s known them for a long, long time.
Boustany has an edge in fundraising, and is running in a district pretty much like the one that has elected him to Congress four times. He won a runoff in 2004 with 55 percent of the vote. He won the 2006 and 2008 primaries with 71 and 62 percent of the votes, respectively. And he was unopposed in 2010.
The political philosophies of the two men couldn’t be more different. Landry shoots from the hip, and Boustany takes a quiet, reserved approach to politics.
“It’s important to have good relationships with other members of Congress, including the leadership to get things done,” Boustany told The Advocate in a telephone interview. “It’s not sufficient to give speeches and have bumper-sticker politics.”
Voters of the new 3rd District had better fasten their seat belts. Their congressional campaign promises to be as wild and woolly as they get. We hope they will be able to separate fact from fiction and not be blinded by wild and unsupported accusations.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than ÿve decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].