To the wider world, it seems like it didn’t take long to draw a response to the entry of a major challenger to his spot. But perhaps it just took time for observers to realize that Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell entered into full campaign mode weeks ago, understanding then that his job was in jeopardy and now looks to take the state on a ride over the next couple of years that accentuates acrimony and divisiveness in order to try to attain reelection.
Having encountered already a number of setbacks questioning his competence and allegiance to special interests, perhaps the biggest challenge among these is just now getting wound up: the allegation that his office allowed an impermissible contingency fee relationship as part of a questionable lawsuit to go forward letting a state agency (where it’s unclear whether this is considered a constituent part of state government or has sufficient independence, such as with a municipality, parish, or school district, not to be considered as such) sue 97 oil companies over actions allegedly taken or not decades ago. Many observers suspect Caldwell has sympathy for this suit not only for ideological reasons, but also because he has a history of trying to expand state government use of contingency fee arrangements that supports his political allies.
The contingency fee issue, and others, were contested in a lawsuit filed by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association late last year. This merely turned up the heat, already being applied by state legislators, in arguing the legal impermissibility of Caldwell’s action. Caldwell enlisted a political ally to formulate a response, and were dynamics different, he might have left it at that to let things play out.
Instead, subsequently the AG’s office countersued, an odd reaction in normal times. If Caldwell was so confident in his actions, why not just swat away the LOGA suit? But the reply to the suit indicated the office admitted it had employed a novel definition of its duties and made assumptions about the status of the entities involved that were debatable. In other words, it displayed a lack of confidence that it could win.
Yet these aren’t normal times of smooth incumbent sailing. At this point, a defeat on this matter would be disastrous for Caldwell’s reelection chances, confirming that growing negative impression acquired from previous litigation outcomes and the political jockeying. So, the best defense is to go on offense, hence the countersuit. Better, if you go on offense, don’t hold back, and the office since the beginning of the year has turned aggressive in its behavior against perceived opponents.
Already having drawn a minor challenger before former Rep. Jeff Landry’s entrance to contest Caldwell’s reelection next year, at the turn of the calendar Caldwell hired Leo Honeycutt, a former journalist-turned-biographer of Prisoner #03128-095 (who was known before his conviction on corruption charges as former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards), to be the office’s official spokesman. In the shilling of his mildly-hagiographic tome, Honeycutt showed pugnaciousness rather than willingness to engage in debate when challenged, as well as conveyed the impression that he allowed himself to be captured by his meal ticket. And he showed off these qualities last week when the dueling lawsuits matter came to a head.
Essentially, LOGA Pres, Don Briggs demurred from being deposed by the office and questioned by the court because of health concerns. Those requests eventually were granted by the court, delaying that process until next week, but afterwards on behalf of the AG Honeycutt issued a blistering series of assertions, accusing Briggs of stalling because “he had no evidence, no case, and hadn’t even read his own lawsuit,” called Briggs’ actions “bizarre, unbelievable and ridiculous … by a man who constantly rails against frivolous lawsuits … now he is one,” and asserted that Briggs’ delay was to help presumed political allies stop the suit.
Naturally, none of this kind of excitable language directed against a private citizen is found specifically in press releases posted by the office – which actually avoid any mention of the suit or countersuit – about any matter. That’s because the general public seldom reads these, rendering them largely useless as campaigning tools, and, for that portion of it that does, would be appalled to see such politically-charged rhetoric churned out using taxpayer dollars. However, with Caldwell’s job threatened it’s all hands on deck and for popular media consumption clearly Honeycutt has been given free rein to act as combatively as possible in its defense.
And in spirit thus has become a taxpayer-paid auxiliary of the Caldwell reelection campaign, with the legal veneer of state employment. And only a small part of it, as in the next two years we can expect to see the entire office (many of its employees, unlike most state agencies, being in “at-will” appointive positions by Caldwell) increasingly politicized in the actions it undertakes, if the countersuit and Honeycutt’s tirade are any indicators. Which should make voters even more wary of retaining an AG who, in deciding what actions his office should take, shows no qualms in prioritizing taxpayer resources for servicing his needs before serving theirs.