Sunday, September 06, 2015

Regular Election Season Preview

Preseason is ending.  This weekend, we.. slowly.. learned the final composition of the New Orleans Saints roster as they prepare to open regular season play next week. (Lots of rookies expected to start or play lots of snaps on defense this year. Yikes!)  This week coming we're going to learn the final roster of candidates in the fall elections.

Here are your important dates. The primary is October 24. If you need to register to vote, you have until Sepember 23.  If you are thinking about running for office, qualifying begins this Tuesday and ends Thursday. There may be some surprises next week. But, at the moment, this is your roster of candidates for Governor.

Public Service Commissioner Scott (T-Bobby) Angelle


Angelle worked in the Jindal Administration as head of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Despite some effort to distance himself, his campaign has ties to Jindal's polling and fundraising infrastructure. He's seen by many as the current Governor's preferred successor.  This could be a liability, to say the least, with Jindal's statewide approval ratings sitting in the 20s and 30s these days.

In 2011, Angelle was the proud recipient of the "Blue Heron Award for Environmental Stewardship." That sounds nice. The award is handed out by the Louisiana Mid Continent Oil and Gas Association. Those guys really know their environmental stewards.
Aaron Viles, deputy director of the Gulf Restoration Network, questioned whether it is ever appropriate for an association to give an award to someone who oversees the regulation of its members.

"Mid Continent giving an environmental award to Scott Angelle is like GE giving a nuclear safety award to the leadership of Fukushima Prefecture," Viles said.

But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who handed out the award, said in a statement that "Scott has been a warrior for our people and our coast."

"He has fought tirelessly to help get out people back to work after the federal government implemented a job-killing deepwater drilling moratorium and a de facto moratorium on shall water drilling," the governor said.
Heckuva job, T-Bobby.

Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne

Mr. Bean for Governor

Republican politics in Louisiana over the past decade has sometimes been described as kind of a three way turf battle between Jindal, Dardenne, and David Vitter.  To the extent that that's even true, Dardenne has been the minor player in it. It's probably more accurate to say that Dardenne has positioned himself as the anti-Jindal in terms of patronage and organization in Baton Rouge and Central Louisiana.  His beef with Vitter is more a default result of the fact that everyone has a beef with Vitter.

Still, Dardenne has substantial reach and name recognition. And his mild temperament allows him to be seen as something of a moderate alternative to the other Republicans even if this is not, strictly speaking, true. As Lt. Governor, he works closely with the tourism industry.  Expect him to call on support from friends there. He's also already pandering to the "Hollywood South" crowd despite the huge hole that program has eaten out of the state budget. (More on that in a bit.)

Dardenne also holds the distinction of being the only candidate to build a replica of the Poverty Point Native American historic site out of Mounds bars.

State Rep John Bel (Gomer) Edwards

Gomer for Governor

You almost have to admire John Bel. He's come a long way during the preseason.  He began with certain strengths. He is a well respected leader among colleagues in the legislature. He's a veteran. And practically everyone in his family has been Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish at some point. The Sheriff's Association still matters in Louisiana politics. Maybe not as much as it once did, but still.. nothing to sneeze at.

But he was also pretty much a no-name among voters statewide.

He's doing better now. Some polls over the summer even showed him leading the field. Edwards has done well to lock up endorsements from the state Democratic Party and Louisiana AFL-CIO early in the year before anyone else with a "D" behind his/her name could jump in the race. (More on that in a bit.)

He gives a pretty good stump speech. Here is Gambit's write-up of his appearance at this year's Jefferson-Jackson dinner in New Orleans. 
Edwards said the pressing issue on voters' minds going into the 2015 election is recovering from Jindal. And Jindal's not even on the ballot. But the party continues to link Republican candidates for governor to Jindal — in his speech, Edwards called his opponents "Jindal on steroids" (David Vitter), "Jindal Lite" (Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne) and "Jindal incarnate" (Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle). Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, the last Democrat in the governor's mansion, introduced Edwards, whose supporters rang yellow bells with blue handles throughout his speech and at any mention of his name throughout the event.
Gomer rolls out that "Jindal Lite, Jindal Incarnate, Jindal On Steroids" line everywhere he goes. It must be working at least a little bit. At the JJ dinner he also worked in a shot at David Vitter. "100% of the voters know who Senator Vitter is. I'm not sure he can overcome that."

Speaking of which...

US Senator David Vitter

David Vitter for Governor

Presumptive front runner and eventual Governor unless something drastic happens.  Nobody likes him at all and yet nobody has any idea how to beat him.  Vitter is a smart, resourceful, and ruthless campaigner. He also has something like $9 million to spend between his campaign and supporting super PAC funds.  He's consistently polled ahead of the pack, or in the top two. It's impossible to imagine Vitter not at least being in the runoff.

Biscuit 4 Louisiana 

Biscuit for Governor

Fake Twitter account ostensibly managed by a housecat. Biscuit nonetheless poses a semi-viable alternative to most of the other candidates on the slate.  Thus far in his political career, he has stood against the reelection campaigns of Bobby Jindal in 2011 and Mitch Landrieu in 2014 on the grounds that he was at least as serious a candidate as any other challenger those years.  His platform mostly involves pointing out terrible policy choices his opponents might make and declaring that, instead of doing any of those things, he would probably nap or play with some string or some such.  Barely campaigns. Has no money, organization, or experience.  But please don't call him an underdog because.. well..

Mystery Last Minute Entrant?

Goat for Gov

Oh my God who could it possibly be!

As sort of a warm-up last week, the candidates participated in two pre-season forums. The first was something called a "Students Ask" forum Wednesday night in "Downtown Hammond."  Candidates answered questions posed by a panel of college students.  The other was a business community sponsored event at the Jazz Market on Friday.  David Vitter only participated in the second forum.  Like preseason football games, they were meh events. But we did learn a few things.

On Wednesday, one interesting question about coastal restoration came from a North Louisiana student.  In our part of the state, voters typically ask the candidates how quickly we can get moving with plans to meet the most serious existential challenge we face. But the way this young lady phrased it was, "Am I going to have to pay higher taxes to fund coastal projects."  It almost sounded, in other words, like "Why should I even care?" So that's one political obstacle to saving South Louisiana from the sea. North Louisiana doesn't care whether we do or not.

Another obstacle, we already know about. No one is willing to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for the destruction it has wrought. Gomer is the only candidate talking even a semi-OK game in that regard. At the students forum he said, "We cannot allow (oil and gas) to be immunized from paying their fair share." Sounds pretty good.  I'm wary of such statements, though, because "fair share" is such an intentionally vague phrasing.

The other candidates are even more timid in that they do everything they can to avoid linking coastal loss with oil exploration at all. At the business forum, Vitter even suggested the best way to make the industry pay their "fair share" is to promise never to make them pay.
Vitter, in sharp contrast, called for greater limits on those kinds of lawsuits to create a better investment climate in Louisiana.

One of the people in the audience was Loulan Pitre, a former state representative from Lafourche Parish who has created a political action committee with former shipbuilder Boysie Bollinger that is seeking to elect legislative candidates who will support Vitter’s view.

Other tidbits from the Students Ask forum: 

Dardenne and Angelle seem to be under the impression that black people all over the country are killing police and not the other way around. Angelle views nationwide protest against police violence as "folks turning against the badge," while Dardenne said, "It's tragic to see police being killed all over the country."  It was disappointing to watch Edwards avoid countering any of this poison. Instead he talked about how proud he is that pretty much everybody in his family is a Sheriff of one thing or another.

T-Bobby's primary message at the Wednesday night forum was that he has lots and lots of children and grandchildren.  Also he sometimes says things in French. A major tenet of his platform is about constructing a large electronic plaque that blinks "CATHOLIC CAJUN PERSON" for him to wear around his neck on a chain. 

The candidates had to answer one obligatory stupid question about which actor would play them in a movie. Dardenne says he wants to be Dustin Hoffman. We were all crushed that he didn't say Rowan Atkinson.

And of course, at the students' forum, they all talked about TOPS and what a shame it is that there's no money for things like TOPS anymore.

There was also some talk about cuts to the state employee retirement program and what a shame it is that there's no money for retirees anymore.  If you've been following along in recent years, you'd know Jindal destroyed a well run Office of Group Benefits in order to satisfy an ideological canard and, of course, hook up some cronies in the process.

Jay Dardenne must not have been watching any of that. His response more or less sent the following message to retirees affected by the boondoggle.

Anyway with all the talk about responsible belt tightening, you'd think the candidates could also agree on plugging up some of our more serious budget holes.  According to this Advocate special report last November, state "tax incentive" giveaways to various special interests have increased from $207.8 million to $1.08 billion (!) per year over the past decade.   These giveaways include oil and gas drilling tax rebates, the state inventory tax reimbursement the infamous "Hollywood South" tax credit program.

At the Jazz Market forum, though, only Edwards said anything against any of those three big budget holes.
Edwards, the only Democrat in the race, gave an answer that the sponsors probably didn’t appreciate. He said the Legislature and Gov. Bobby Jindal have cut spending during the past seven years and that taking a bite out of the business tax breaks was necessary to help balance the budget and stave off the possible bankruptcy of LSU’s main campus in Baton Rouge.

“For one year, we reduced some tax expenditures on a temporary basis,” Edwards said, adding that the Legislature and governor ought to limit the cost of tax breaks and how long they can remain in effect.

Edwards added that the revenue raised from curtailing some tax breaks by 28 percent helped pay for the operation of the big New Orleans hospital that opened a month ago.
This morning's Advocate reports that next year's budget already projects at least $700 million in deficit.  The next Governor and Legislature will have to choose between even further cuts to higher education and health care or patching the gaping hole in the budget due to corporate welfare. This question should be the central theme of this election.  Right now, Gomer is the only candidate who even acknowledges it.

The good news there is, should Gomer make the runoff as most polls suggest he will, the election will at that point be about a serious contrast in policy choices.  That's the sort of thing that makes for a compelling race, and maybe even a closer race than conventional wisdom suggests.

So despite the slow start, this could end up being a fun election season later on when... oh wait a sec. Almost forgot about this.

Goat for Gov

The late hour chatter this weekend suggests there might be a shake-up coming.

Recall early August when Video Poker and Newspaper Kingpin John Georges paid for a poll that.. for some reason.. also included his name as sort of a bonus question. 
The poll was partially funded by John Georges, a New Orleans businessman who co-owns The Advocate and ran for governor in 2007.

Kennedy included Georges’ name in the poll, asking only if the person was aware of his name and had an opinion about him.

“Currently, I have no plans to run for public office but I would never rule that out,” Georges wrote in an email. “I have included my name recognition and favorability in every poll since owning The Advocate to gauge public opinion on the things I am doing. I cannot see a scenario that I would run but I am flattered. I believe the field of candidates will not change.”
Let's just say that a lot of people aren't buying that right now. 

That poll was released amid a flurry of intrigue last month. My guess is most of it was purposed toward promoting Angelle. In addition to Georges, other names were floated as potential candidates. Mayor Landrieu and City Councilman Jason Williams were rumored to be considering it. 

This was strange since the only thing an extra Democrat in the race could do at this point is ensure that zero Democrats make the runoff. So any Democrat who jumps in now has to know that's what he/she is going to accomplish. The tradeoff for this, traditionally, is the spoiler candidate is either straight up bought off or gets to build some statewide name recognition and momentum to use later on. It's hard to see either of those things motivating Georges.  But there are other incentives.

For instance, it could also be that the realpolitkers in the State Democratic Party are thinking they need to submarine Gomer now in order to keep Vitter from taking the runoff in a cakewalk.  They don't think Edwards, or any Democrat can beat Vitter so they'd rather take their chances with a Republican of their choosing.  Anybody but Vitter, right?

Anybody But Vitter

Plus there are plenty enough prominent Democratic party insiders and donors in Louisiana who, thanks to their specific business interests would be as happy if not happier with Angelle as Governor than Edwards. John Georges is one such person.

Recall also that, when Geoges's poll was released, Clancy Dubos made the strange choice to report it in such a way that made it appear as though Angelle was surging and Edwards was falling behind.  The veteran reporter chose to leave this impression despite a rather obvious aberration in the numbers he decided to highlight.
Those percentages reflect the straight-up answers to direct questions. If the numbers are calculated for how voters in various demographics actually cast ballots, then the results change.

“My understanding of the poll is that I am in first place, with Vitter and Angelle tied in second place,” Edwards said Friday.

Kennedy’s poll showed when African-American responses are redistributed along historical voting patterns, a common technique used by pollsters, then Edwards’ support comes in at 34 percent, while Angelle and Vitter each have 21 percent. Dardenne and the “undecideds” are at 12 percent.
So why did Clancy write it the way he did? He tried to explain himself a few days later.
When Kennedy’s poll leaked out last week, I reported only the “raw” and “leaner” numbers because I was not trying to project the results forward. Think of it this way: A poll is like a photograph. It reflects voter attitudes and opinions at a particular point in time. Over time, the picture usually changes — especially when candidates start spending money and attacking one another. A poll, therefore, is not a crystal ball that predicts the outcome of an election. It merely shows where the candidates are at a particular moment during the campaign.

In not reporting the redistributed numbers, I didn’t intend to discount the validity of Kennedy’s analysis, nor did I intend to slight Edwards. However, when the redistributed numbers began circulating, people wondered why where were such different results from the same poll. I hope this explanation helps.
I don't know if that helps.  If anything it adds to the suspicion that Clancy knew exactly what he was doing when he reported the numbers the way he did. 

All of this suggests that Angelle is the candidate a lot of establishment pols and donors including John Georges (and possibly Clancy Dubos) like the most. If Georges jumps into the race this week.. and, again, a whole bunch of people seem to think this could happen... that is most likely the reason for it.

Or it could be we get through Qualifying Week with no extra drama to speak of.  In which case, these are the candidates we're stuck with.  That is, unless Biscuit comes up with the entrance fee by before Thursday.  Anybody got an extra $750 he can borrow?

Update:  Not long after I published this, I heard that Georges might not run after all.  This doesn't change anything about the dynamics and motivations described here, though. 

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