Treasurer John Kennedy’s assumed gubernatorial candidacy took a hit last week with an incident that goes against the narrative he has tried painstakingly to create and, worse, feeds the one that has kept him from advancing beyond this one and only elective office he ever has held.
The state swallowed a bitter pill last week when it decided to fork over as much as $95 million in a bond retirement deal for the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, because the interest rate environment and lapsing of a special federal income tax exemption would make the eventual payouts even higher through 2036. Essentially, the state made the wrong bet on interest rates and has gotten caught in a situation where it would have paid high rates for many years to come.
The state entity that runs the building, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, bears part of the blame for accepting the broker’s idea, but the ones who work out the details are in the Treasury Department headed by Kennedy. He also, as part of that office, runs the State Bond Commission and was present on Mar. 6, 2006, when the $294 million sale went through and was the only item on the agenda.
Now, Kennedy blames former Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco for the deal, saying she insisted on it. The structure of the Commission gives the governor a chance to have several appointees and legislative allies on it, and all of the elected officials or through their representatives, Kennedy included, were Democrats at the time. So if the Blanco Administration was insistent, it could have muscled the terms through.
In fact, several members of the commission spoke apparently at length about the issue. Kennedy did not speak on it at all, then he joined the unanimous vote approving. So if he had any trepidation at all concerning the scheme, he certainly made no effort to publicize it then, as opposed to his present proclamation hinting he was against it and could not stop it, but undeniably disclaiming any responsbility.
For years, Kennedy has tried to position himself as a fiscal watchdog of the state, from time to time firing off denunciations of actions the state takes on the fiscal front and proffering his own ideas of uneven quality. This has attempted to offset a public perception of Kennedy that he is more opportunist than principled (out of office, Blanco has called him a “grandstander”), willing to spout off favoring hot, popular issue preferences of the day to capture attention even if what he says as a result may contradict what he said in the past.
His silence then but willingness to apportion responsibility away now defeats his desired narrative and only feeds the impression he’s willing to say whatever in order to serve his political ambitions – whether it be to curry favor with the elites in power then by making no waves, if they actually were insistent and if he genuinely believed it to be a bad deal as he implies, or now to make himself look blameless for the mistake. That’s not a winning strategy for higher office.