Even as Democrats and liberals went into retreat nationally in elections earlier this week, including the disastrous showing of Louisiana’s Sen. Mary Landrieu, a liberal masquerading as a Republican could wrench away a moderate conservative majority on the Public Service Commission next month.
Almost as stunningly underwhelming as Landrieu’s performance Tuesday night was that of Republican District 1 Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, who actually trailed Forest Bradley Wright by a percentage point at only 37 percent. It never should have been that close, for Wright, who got routed two years ago in a different district running as a Democrat and has strong support from leftists in the environmental movement and the state’s solar industry and others with hands out for subsidies that the PSC can provide through its regulations, seems a poor match for a district that has trended more and more Republican and conservative.
But Wright cleverly ran as a Republican in a race that people usually are ill-informed about. He also spent almost as much money as Skrmetta, almost half of which came from identifiably solar energy interests. The irony there is that his campaign criticized Skrmetta from accepting donations from other energy concerns directly regulated by the PSC, which amounted to about a third of Skrmetta’s total haul over the past few years, while pledging not to take any, even though he has taken the lion’s share of money that he raised from concerns that directly benefit from PSC actions, even if they are not directly regulated. For example, the PSC has wrestled with the issue of net metering, whether it ought to make ratepayers without solar power subsidize those that have it. Skrmetta has opposed that, but Wright, who worked for alternative energy interests, would serve as a sure tool shilling for these interests if he replaced him.
Further, perennial candidate Al Leone, also running as a Republican, drew about a quarter of the vote, even though he barely campaigned. While he’s more like Skrmetta in his views, he also criticized the incumbent for accepting donations from regulated industries and pledged not to take any but unlike Wright seemed not to then take from indirectly affected industries in great amounts. It’s an indictment on Skrmetta’s campaigning that he could allow a candidate who spent fewer than $5,000 on the effort to collect that many votes.
More worryingly for him, the pattern of Leone’s voting support in the general election fits better to Wright’s than his. An analysis of the 350 precincts from the six parishes wholly represented in the district shows that Skrmetta disproportionately attracted whites and Republicans while Wright disproportionately got votes from black and Democrats – showing that a number of voters did seem to figure out who was the conservative and who was the liberal in the race – but Leone’s voters also correlated along the lines of Wright’s as well as he was more likely to attract support from other races and no party/other party voters.
Thus, in order to win the runoff, Skrmetta will have to campaign much more aggressively, driving home the message that Wright is a disingenuous hypocrite fronting for interests that will increase costs for consumers, as well as point out his friendliness to the radical environmental movement that belies his GOP identification. Clearly he has allowed Wright to establish this narrative that he’s controlled by certain interests, when in reality Wright appears to be bought and paid for by crony capitalists seeking to have both ratepayers and taxpayers continue to subsidize their livelihoods in the wake of the state recently changing the law to wind down subsidization of the solar industry. Getting this out to the public can help sway the more independent voters that may have glommed on to Leone’s candidacy because they knew Wright’s politics were too economically destructive but were hesitant to commit to Skrmetta because of the negative campaigning against him.
If Wright were to win, he would create a majority with Democrats just-reelected Foster Campbell and holdover Lambert Bossiere, who given his district’s demographics isn’t going anywhere, to create at least six years’ worth of trendy but wasteful regulating that will harm the state’s consumers and taxpayers. In a low-information contest like this, it’s up to the candidates to get full information out there about their opposition — especially when as in his case he has a half a million bucks with which to do it — and the district demographics are favorable to Skrmetta if his constituents learn of the distinctions. He excellently has looked after ratepayers and taxpayers, such as in leading the charge to halt wasteful subsidization of special interests, and it’s up to him to step up his campaigning to preserve his seat in the best interests of the state.