That’s how an insider described to us the move by state senator and Louisiana Democrat Party chair Karen Carter Peterson to void the appointments of a pair of very prominent Democrats to high profile state positions.
On Monday, in an extraordinary power play, Peterson ousted the highly regarded chairman of the gambling board, Ronnie Jones, during a private session of the Louisiana Senate where senators could exercise a little-known authority to veto appointees of Gov. John Bel Edwards and other statewide elected officials to dozens of boards and commissions.
Besides representing New Orleans in the Senate, Peterson is the long-time chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, so her surprise decision also puts her at odds with Edwards, the state’s most prominent Democrat. On Tuesday, he sharply criticized the failure to confirm Jones without mentioning Peterson.
Peterson’s move, which she has not explained publicly, targeted Jones and four other appointees, including Walt Leger III, a former colleague in the Legislature and speaker pro tem who has now lost his job as chairman of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.
“I felt blindsided and somewhat betrayed by the process,” Jones said in an interview Tuesday adding that he can’t explain why he was removed.
Jones said he had attempted both last year and this year to explain to Peterson that he had nothing to do with the public revelation that she had voluntarily put herself on a secret list of people who cannot enter a Louisiana casino – to try to control her gambling problem – but then had been caught on the floor of L’Auberge Casino in Baton Rouge.
“She did not give me the courtesy of a meeting,” Jones said.
Peterson also did not alert the governor’s office about her concerns with Jones, Leger and the four others, a breach of senatorial courtesy. Had she done so, Edwards could have tried to smooth relations or withdrawn the nominees before the confirmation session.
Peterson’s move leaves the gambling board without a chairman at a time when Jones was overseeing the reopening of the state’s casinos.
The Convention Center board is also leaderless now while grappling with how to recover from the collapse of its business and push forward with plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to refurbish the state facility, upgrade Convention Center Boulevard and possibly build a massive hotel.
There is definitely a history with Ronnie Jones and Peterson. When she was thrown out of L’Auberge Casino in Baton Rouge for violating that entry ban, Peterson was humiliated in front of the whole state, and you will not find a more vindictive public figure in Louisiana than Karen Carter Peterson. She was going to have her revenge. And she did.
But the fact that Walt Leger, who a year ago was Speaker Pro Tem of the Louisiana House of Representatives and a close ally of John Bel Edwards’, was bounced out of his appointment to head the New Orleans Convention Center board, makes this a bit more than an exercise in personal pique from Peterson.
There is an underlying dynamic here that nobody in the state’s legacy media wants to talk about, and it’s this: as of Monday, when the Secretary of State posted the latest Monday update on voter registration in Louisiana, 57.5 percent of the state’s 1.25 million Democrat voters are black, compared to just 38.6 percent who are white.
That nearly 60-40 black-white split within the party is coupled with an even more disproportionate share of elected Democrat officials in Louisiana who are black. For example, in the state legislature there are only two of 12 Democrat senators who are white and 10 who are black; in the House it’s 29 black Democrats and only seven white Democrats. At the local level the numbers are similarly pretty lopsided.
And yet while Peterson, who is black, chairs the party it’s John Bel Edwards, who is quite white, who holds the power and purse strings at its headquarters.
What’s really happening here is that Peterson has decided she’s going to force Edwards to start giving out a lot more patronage to people who represent the majority of Democrats from now on, or else. The blood on the floor from the move on Jones and Leger, who weren’t the only ones denied appointments, was a clear signal of that.
Edwards’ problem is he has no political future if he fights against this power play. He’s probably at the terminus of his political viability now anyway; having been re-elected governor by a small margin the only real option available to him would be a run for the Senate against John Kennedy in 2022, and he’d be an extreme long shot to win. Edwards could perhaps wangle himself a cabinet post in the off chance Joe Biden won election this fall, and there were for a few brief moments months ago quiet discussions about a wildcat run for president in 2024 in the event Biden gets annihilated and the Democrats decide there is space for a more centrist candidate. None of those possibilities are especially likely; none of them are even in the realm of realistic if he’s at war with the black community.
Toward that end there have been a lot of quiet rumors ever since Edwards’ re-election that he was going to bounce Peterson out as party chair and find someone more agreeable. But of late those have dropped off, and we’re told Peterson’s position as party chair remains quite firm. He couldn’t move her out, or at least that’s how it’s been described to us.
And there’s another issue in play, which is that former state senator J.P. Morrell is rumored to be considering a run for mayor of New Orleans in 2022. That would put Morrell in a battle against incumbent disaster LaToya Cantrell, who is an ally of Peterson’s and not a particular fan of Edwards. Leger and Morrell are friendly and it’s expected Leger would back his play for mayor; if he were to do so from the chair of the Convention Center board, he would be in a position to pull great weight in that regard. Edwards would, some believe, also throw in quietly behind Morrell.
So it’s more than just the racial politics within the Louisiana Democrat Party, but fundamentally that’s what’s happening. Peterson thinks it’s unseemly that white trial lawyers who have controlled a majority-black party continue to do so and she wants it to stop, and now that Edwards is something of a lame duck she’s making moves and settling scores.
And as of now, we’d have to bet on Crazy Karen. Which if you’re a Republican, probably bodes pretty well for the future of the state.