In a contest expected to focus on ideas and policy, to date Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne smartly has taken the lead in staking out the campaign turf of competence in administration, partly by design, partly by fortuitous happenstance.
The all-but-announced gubernatorial candidate in the span of last week found two opportunities to prod voters with the thought that he could run state government, and potentially well. In essence, one fell into his lap when comments by reality television star/accidental political kingmaker Phil Robertson sparked controversy, leading the network that broadcast his show to say he was “suspended,” meaning somehow he wouldn’t appear in episodes for some indeterminate period. This prompted the Robertson clan to announce they might well look for a new network home for the show if it continued.
And Dardenne was there, if needed, the help grease the skids. With the only constitutional responsibility to wait until the governor was not able to serve in that capacity temporarily or permanently, the office of lieutenant governor was assigned the duty of overseeing the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism. Facing budgetary stress, Dardenne went a step further and subsumed he secretary’s job into his.
Normally only in a position to lodge complaints against budget cuts, this incident gave him a chance to accentuate the positive beyond the usual low-priority issues of the department. As the series has become the most watched ever on cable television, it has turned into having a non-trivial impact on Louisiana’s tourism industry and certainly does showcase the state, so Dardenne cannily offered his services as intermediary to help facilitate the show’s continued airing the way the family intends if that what it wants.
The political cost to do this was exactly zero and helped to link slightly Dardenne with the clan, which isn’t exactly a political negative to many state voters. It even it turns what can be a negative to many into a positive – Dardenne was the author of the law creating the motion picture tax credit that has resulted in the state forgoing more than half a billion dollars more than revenues received as a result since its inception, incentives of which apply to shows like the Robertsons’ Duck Dynasty – by illuminating one of, if perhaps the only, example of where visual production tax credits actually may pay for themselves. Finding quickly a popular use of his auhtority signals he has the capacity to use his powers productively.
While less attention-getting, another bit of state news also brought Dardenne’s managerial skills favorable publicity. The Legislative Auditor’s office came out with an unfavorable report on the activities of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, detailing shoddy accounting practices, lax control, and potential ethics violations. The Board is under Dardenne’s jurisdiction.
But that came about only in the last six months. The questionable practices occurred prior to Dardenne’s department taking over supervising the board, when it acted semi-autonomously from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Dardenne cleaned house and asked for the audit when he assumed responsibility, exemplifying a commitment to competence in governing, which seems further enhanced by his implementation already of practices suggested by the auditor.
In the classic sense, while a number of voters discount, if not ignore entirely, ideological considerations when casting their ballot choices, elections in democracies are supposed to turn on candidate issue preferences, and the 2015 contest looks to provide variety in this regard, from sets that reflect faith in big government to empowerment of individuals first. On this presumed continuum of contenders’ ideologies, Dardenne is considered to fall between the more extreme points, with the putative favorite Sen. David Vitter the most consistent conservative of the bunch.
Yet suspicion genuine conservatives might have of Dardenne’s moderating tendencies could receive some mitigation by an emphasis on competent governance. For the one thing Vitter never has done in a political career almost as long as Dardenne’s is serve in an executive capacity either in the public or private sector. It has been over four decades since a successful gubernatorial candidate (Prisoner #03128-095) did not have a managerial background with executive responsibility in a large organization, since which state government has become increasingly larger and more complex.
It’s a selling point that Dardenne, whose job also provides opportunities to show he can make government work more efficiently, can use in a campaign, and these recent actions can bolster that record in an aspect of the campaign that as yet has received little attention.