It might surprise readers to know that the idea of the warden of Louisiana’s most prominent prison running for governor is neither unprecedented nor futile.
It turns out that the only man ever to defeat Huey Long in an election was Henry Fuqua, who beat Long in the 1924 governor’s race. Fuqua was, at the time, the warden of the Louisiana State Prison in Angola – his only political experience up until Fuqua’s election and also his previous job title for eight years. Yet that shouldn’t mean an embryonic candidacy of the current chief there Burl Cain either is realistic nor desirable
While the state’s media may report the notion of Cain’s jousting for the state’s top spot, apparently juiced by anonymous social media postings, as something novel, in fact this talk has circulated previously, as noted warily by the far left in reference to the 2011 election. Cain has carved out a history as a prison reformer that puts the locus on reformation of the individual from within, that believes good, hard, honest work spurs such reformation (or at least helps the miscreant square his debt to society), and that religious belief and its expression does wonders to subsume and control man’s tendency towards evil.
In Cain’s nearly two decades heading up Angola, he has achieved near-celebrity status on the basis of helping to turn what once had been a dreadful operation into one that prides itself on its safety (a large portion of its population is murderers and the large majority are lifers), its multitude of enterprises that pay for some of its operations (including loaning itself out for documentaries and feature films), certain high-profile prisoner-run aspects such as its rodeo and newspaper, and the relatively high proportion of evangelization spread among its inmates. Critics maintain that Cain treats some prisoners too harshly (the most recent allegation being over its ambient death row temperatures) and severity depends upon whether they embrace religiosity, especially of his evangelical kind.
Cain could point to his overseeing a hundred-million dollar operation as a strength. But executive experience isn’t in short supply among already-declared candidates for governor such as Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who also previously served as Secretary of State, and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, who previously served as lieutenant governor and Secretary of Natural Resources, and they have proved they can win elections as well.
Voters particularly motivated by social issues could be attracted by a Cain candidacy. But few would place so primacy on perceived religious fervor of a candidate as to make that the decisive factor in casting a vote, so his entrance would peel relatively few votes from any others now in the race, which besides Dardenne and Angelle also includes fellow Republican Sen. David Vitter and the only Democrat thus declared, state Rep.John Bel Edwards.
And besides some voters who might be turned off by his reputation, if he were to run and win he not only would be the oldest governor ever inaugurated in Louisiana at age 72 but also almost the oldest ever to serve. He seems energetic enough running Angola, but running the state is an order of magnitude more taxing.
Yet the biggest strike against his candidacy is, after a lifetime of working as a bureaucrat, most of it at the upper level of state government, that he doesn’t quite get that Louisiana government has desperately needed right-sizing and increased efficiency in operation that only has begun under Gov. Bobby Jindal. Indeed, when he served on the State Civil Service Board, when Jindal tried to get through an evaluation system that better matched pay to performance, Cain was its harshest critic and thereby demonstrated that he put the interests of bureaucrats ahead of taxpayers. His opposition at least in part resulted in the installation of much watered-down changes and for Jindal to give up on trying to make more progress in that area, where savings could be in the tens of millions of dollars every year and with better performance; Cain seems highly unlikely to be the guy to get this enacted.
Correctional services are one of the largest expenditures in the state’s budget, and while the Jindal Administration has introduced some measures to increase efficiency in that area and closed surplus prison space, its efforts to save even more by privatization and sentencing reform by way of reducing time in prison (except for some relatively minor changes in 2012) have been thwarted. It’s uncertain whether Cain would support the latter as that would reduce prison populations (as that would reduce the number of state and local corrections employees and thereby money flowing into the system), but nothing in his history suggests he would support the former, as he has spent a career expanding, not reducing, Angola’s footprint.
This alone shows that Cain would not be an ideal choice to lead under the fiscal pressures the state may end up experiencing over the next few years. Coupled with candidates out there already who have exhibited more sensible attitudes concerning the making of the state’s bureaucracy smaller and more efficient, a Cain gubernatorial candidacy would add nothing still missing from voters’ current choices for the state’s highest office.