Give the USA Today Network’s Greg Hilburn credit for one thing – his timing is pretty good. Hilburn caught Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry coming out of the Louisiana State Bond Commission meeting, when four Louisiana senators made the difference in essentially killing a resolution that would have made Wall Street banks attacking gun ownership ineligible to bid on finance contracts for state infrastructure projects. And Hilburn got Landry talking about his upcoming work for the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority (LCRM).
LCRM is actually changing its name to LCCM – the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority. It’s planning on spending upwards of $1.5 million on the 2019 elections, and in doing so it might as well change its name again to LCCSM – the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Senate Majority.
“They’re Republicans in name only,” he said in an interview with USA Today Network. “That’s the problem.”
Landry took over leadership of the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority last year, but the group’s name is changing to Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority.
“We don’t believe the Senate reflects the conservative views of the state,” he said.
That was illustrated, he said, when Republican Senate President John Alario helped block an attempt from Landry and Treasurer John Schroder to ban Citgroup and Bank of America from doing business with the state because of the banks’ gun policies.
“So we’re putting together a plan moving forward to ensure the future makeup of the Senate reflects Louisiana,” he said.
LCRM was a PAC originally spearheaded by Sen. David Vitter and a group of conservative businessmen, and in the 2007 and 2011 cycles the work LCRM did was nothing short of incredible. Through its efforts the Louisiana legislature flipped from “D” to “R” like in no time in state history outside of Reconstruction, and currently 61 of the 105 House seats and 25 of the 39 Senate seats in the state legislature are held by Republicans.
But Landry is correct in noting that the Senate’s Republican majority is a joke. The Senate president is John Alario, who calls himself a Republican only because he wouldn’t have been able to hornswoggle then-Gov. Bobby Jindal and his Senate colleagues into making him its president in 2012 if he’d had a “D” by his name. And Alario could claim to have been something of a conservative from 2012 to 2016 when he was doing Jindal’s bidding. But once John Bel Edwards was elected governor and Alario got himself another term as Senate president the mask fell off, and Alario is the same unreconstructed politically fraudulent big-government relic he always was.
He proved that last week at the Bond Commission, when he voted against sanctioning Citigroup and Bank of America for their attacks on gun owners, manufacturers and sellers. So did another RINO Senator in Sen. John Smith. The two were the difference in an 8-6 vote in favor of Wall Street banks over Louisiana small businesses.
Which means Landry and LCRM/LCCM/LCCSM are going to focus on making the Senate a lot redder in next year’s elections, and it’s a critical effort for the future of the state to do that.
There are a number of senators who are Democrats in Republican districts who can be turned out with a good candidate (John Milkovich in Shreveport being an example), and there are also some bad Republicans who can be beaten by better ones (Ryan Gatti in Bossier City the most obvious there). But the most important opportunity for LCRM is the 16 Senate seats whose holders will be term-limited out of office next year.
There are a couple of “pickup” opportunities in those 16 – most notably the seat in northeast Louisiana currently held by Francis Thompson (D-Delhi), and the seat in the 28th district north of Lafayette Eric Lafleur (D-Ville Platte) occupies. Lafleur’s district was without question a pro-Donald Trump district in the 2016 presidential election, for example, and that’s an obvious potential GOP pickup.
Two other current Democrat seats which are term-limited probably won’t be changing party hands, as there aren’t enough Republican or conservative voters to make the next occupants of J.P. Morrell’s seat in New Orleans or Yvonne Colomb’s seat in Baton Rouge look or vote differently than the current holders do.
But the other 12 afford opportunities to make the Senate more conservative.
Perhaps the best of the term-limited senators is Conrad Appel, and losing him will be a blow. But Appel’s Metairie-based district is the one it’s expected current Louisiana House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry will run in, and Henry is as conservative as Appel is. He’s expected to win that seat comfortably when he runs for it, which would be considered a hold for the conservative movement.
The seats held by Jack Donohue (R-Covington), Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe) are going to be priorities where candidate recruitment is concerned. Those seats are in very conservative districts and they should be represented as such – as they have been with their current holders. It’s possible 2019 could yield improvements in those districts, but we’re comfortable in saying Landry and LCRM (or LCCM) would be happy to elect people just as good as the ones leaving those seats.
But eight other seats present opportunities for improvement.
A Republican seat which would get much more reliably conservative would be another one in Jefferson Parish’s East Bank, where Danny Martiny is term-limited. The favorite to replace Martiny is Rep. Kirk Talbot, unlike Martiny a reliable, reform-minded conservative. Talbot might get a race from fellow Rep. Julie Stokes for that seat, if Stokes doesn’t run for Secretary of State. If she does opt for the Senate District 10 seat, you can bet LCRM will be heavily involved for Talbot.
Then there’s District 20 in the Houma area, where perhaps Louisiana’s worst RINO Norby Chabert is being termed out. Chabert was a Democrat until 2011, when the backlash against President Obama’s offshore drilling moratorium made him politically vulnerable in that affiliation. Since then he’s shown himself to be the same “D” he always was – Chabert posted a pathetic 34 percent score on the LABI scorecard in 2015 and only improved slightly to 51 percent in 2016. He was a bit better with a 78 percent score last year, but there is little question that district can produce someone more reliable than Chabert.
Alario’s District 8 on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish is probably not one which is going to produce a conservative superstar, and it might well be that seat isn’t even held by a Republican by 2020. Just getting him out of the Senate alone is a victory; at this time it’s not yet settled who would be LCRM’s choice there.
In District 25, Dan “Blade” Morrish will be termed out and Rep. Mark Abraham is said to be among the chief hopefuls to replace him. As Morrish posted a 42 percent rating on LABI’s scorecard last year while Abraham scored 100 percent, it’s pretty clear there’s a potential improvement in that trade.
Other seats subject to term limits could also result in better Republicans – those currently held by Gerald Long (R-Winnfield), who scored 64 percent from LABI last year and a terrible 36 percent in 2016; Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge), who posted an 88 score last year but just 67 percent in 2016 and 39 percent in 2015; Dale Erdey (R-Central), who last year scored 49 and the year before only 25 percent; and Smith (R-Leesville), who last year scored 47 percent and the year before 51 percent. Of that group, Claitor – who had to hold off a relatively stiff challenge from conservative businessman Scott McKnight in 2015 – has a record he can defend on conservative grounds, but the others are clearly lukewarm at best. A supposedly red Louisiana can do better.
And now the state has a fighter in Landry willing to make raising money and recruiting candidates to improve the legislature’s problem-child body a priority as the LCRM – or LCCM – chairman.
In that he’s going to have some help, as LABI has also beefed up its efforts to solidify the legislature and included in that the Senate, with a million-dollar war chest already in hand.
How much of this will be influenced by the 2019 governor’s race is an interesting question. The likely answer is “not much,” as John Bel Edwards’ higher-than-one-would-expect approval ratings don’t seem to carry with them a ton of ideological support from Louisiana’s voters and he’d need that to have the kind of coattails that would move the legislature leftward were he to win re-election. But should someone come along and beat Edwards, it’s similarly not in evidence that the challenger would necessarily carry a ticket of legislative candidates to some sort of landslide, either. Without knowing who that challenger to Edwards would be and the nature of that race, it’s hard to predict the gubernatorial election will have a determining effect on the legislature in 2019.
What we do know is the political insiders expect the Democrats to re-enter the fray in 2019 with some national money in those legislative races. This is true because of the coming redistricting fight across the country after the 2020 census, and also because of the toehold in the South Edwards represents in the governor’s mansion – and if he manages to be re-elected but has a conservative majority to contend with in both the House and Senate, his second term is almost surely doomed to worse failure than his first.
All of which contributes to the 2019 election cycle shaping up as the most interesting – maybe even exciting – in Louisiana’s recent history. It’s a long way off, but few would argue the state could be the field of its loudest-ever ideological battles next year.