Southwest Louisiana will play a deciding role Nov. 6 when two sitting U.S. congressmen and three others seek to represent the redrawn 3rd Congressional District. Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, were thrown into the 3rd District when the state lost the 7th District because of weak population growth.
Boustany has represented the 7th District for four two-year terms, and Landry is in his first term as congressman from the old 3rd District. Others who qualified are Republican Dr. Bryan Barrilleaux, Democrat Ron Richard and Libertarian Jim Stark, all of Lake Charles. Richard is an attorney, and Stark is a truck driver for a Lake Charles company.
The new district is composed of Acadia, Calcasieu, Cameron, Iberia, Jeff Davis, Lafayette, St. Martin, St. Mary, Vermilion and part of St. Landry Parish. Six of those parishes were in the 7th District, giving Boustany a numbers edge over Landry.
The 3rd District contains 488,381 registered voters. There are 356,665 white voters, 115,643 black voters and 16,073 others. Democrats total 231,483, and there are 134,200 Republicans and 122,698 voters from other parties or no party. The latter two groups total 256,898 voters.
Boustany is more of a low-key public official, compared to Landry’s outspoken nature. And the two men have been taking shots at one another for about the last four months.
Landry proved two years ago he is a capable campaigner when he defeated former Louisiana House Speaker Hunt Downer in their race for the old 3rd District seat. He is a tea party favorite, and already has its backing.
The state Democratic Party and Landry supporters are elated over the fact Richard entered the race.
State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, and chairman of the state party, said, “We can knock off two (Boustany and Landry) with one stone (Richard)” in the 3rd District.
Richard’s entry has some tea party enthusiasts convinced their man (Landry) is a cinch to make the Dec. 8 runoff and win the general election.
Landry has been repeating his campaign theme over and over again for months. He is portraying Boustany as a Washington insider who voted last year to raise the nation’s debt limit. Here is part of what he said when he announced he would be a candidate:
“If you think the way Washington runs is bad – I am here to tell you it is even worse than you thought,” Landry said.
“Because there are some Republicans who claim they are conservatives but vote like liberals. It happens – because they’re more interested in keeping their jobs than fighting for your jobs.”
Boustany quietly defends his record and said he will concentrate on his leadership and accomplishments. He said he has proved he can get things done and doesn’t “shoot from the hip,” an obvious reference to Landry’s campaign tactics.
“The fundamental issue … is an issue of trust, of character and proven leadership that can get things done,” Boustany told The Advocate in a telephone interview.
“It is important to have good relationships with other members of Congress, including the leadership, to get things done,” he said. “It’s not sufficient to give speeches and have bumper-sticker politics.”
The newspaper said Pearson Cross, political science chairman at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, described Boustany as not necessarily a moderate, just less conservative than the far-right-leaning Landry.
Calling Boustany a liberal is quite a stretch. However, Landry proved when he won the 3rd District seat two years ago that anything goes in his campaigns.
The voters of Calcasieu Parish could prove to be Boustany’s ace in the hole. They haven’t forgotten how their congressman fought to keep them in the new 3rd Congressional District. Gov. Bobby Jindal, the state Republican Party, sitting north Louisiana congressmen and the Tea Party of Louisiana wanted to put Calcasieu Parish in the 4th District based in Shreveport.
Jindal and the GOP leadership were willing to do whatever it took to save the two seats held by U.S. Reps. John Fleming, R-Shreveport, and Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman. The Tea Party’s goal was to improve Landry’s election odds.
Citizens in this corner of the state had made it clear during redistricting hearings held in Lake Charles and Lafayette that Calcasieu and Lafayette parishes wanted to stay in the same coastal district. Legislators got the message loud and clear.
Only time will tell how much of an impact Richard, the lone Democrat, will have in this congressional campaign. The Associated Press described him as a Lake Charles personal injury lawyer who has never run for public office.
Richard said he plans to use his own money in the race, and gave the AP a hint of the kind of campaign he may pursue.
“The working men and women of south Louisiana need somebody working for them, and I quite frankly just don’t see it with the two incumbents,” he said.
The entry of Richard and two others definitely makes this a more interesting contest, but Boustany and Landry have been campaigning for some time now. They enjoy a big edge in financing and name recognition.
Former Gov. Buddy Roemer didn’t have money and name recognition when he entered the presidential sweepstakes. He would be the first to say that makes the odds for outsiders daunting.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337494-4025 or [email protected].