Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Breakfast Club

It was supposed to be such a bummer.  This evening, on WWLTV's  6:00 newscast, Clancy Dubos told us that, sadly, turnout in these elections is not expected to be much better than 40 or 45 percent. It's a statewide election with an open governor's seat.  How could this be? Clancy and Ron Faucheux frowned at us and lamented that "the tone" of the campaign has been bad and that the candidates have failed to "inspire" people.

Later, on Informed Sources, Errol Laborde told us the lack of interest might actually be a good sign. You see, according to Errol, if a lot of people are coming out to vote, that usually means something is wrong and voters are angry at the candidates. People voting makes Errol uncomfortable. Anyway, according to these pundits, the problem with turnout is either voters are not "inspired" enough by the candidates or they are far too happy with them.

All of that is nonsense, of course.  Voter apathy is up for a combination of the following reasons. First, the domination of TV advertising by SuperPAC money has "nationalized" the narrative of what should be a campaign about Louisiana. Voters are bombarded with cookie cutter type ads designed to appeal to (mostly) conservative voters in any state.  "Dardenne/Edwards/Angelle is an Obama liberal"  "David Vitter likes puppies" One ad said John Young is "like Hillary Clinton" because he also uses email... or something. In any case, the majority of the paid media aimed at voters tells them none of this stuff has much of anything to do with them.

Add to that the raft of mainstream pundits insisting that there are no significant policy differences among any of the candidates. I was surprised to hear Stephanie Grace say precisely that on Informed Sources tonight since, if you read her columns (and ignore their headlines) you'll see she clearly understands where they differ. She's not the only one who does this. In fact, she's far from the worst offender in this regard. But the effect of all of this is that even voters who pay at least some attention to the news probably have been given the very misleading impression that their vote doesn't make much of a difference.

And yet there was everyone on TV tonight scratching their heads trying to get at this problem of low turnout.  Jeremy Alford said he thinks voters are "burned out on politics." I think he may have been projecting a little bit there. Which is probably not good for someone who writes about politics for a living.

We here at the Yellow Blog have tried to spend what time we've had this election highlighting the actual policy differences between the candidates since the mainstream pundits have not done so.  It's incredibly frustrating since our primary source on all of this is just.. you know.. their own papers which we know they must read also. I had intended to make this the topic of tonight's Election Eve post. But I'll have to come back to that later because it's starting to look like one of the camapaigns has suddenly hauled off and "inspired" some people tonight.
It all started Friday morning, as Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand convened his regular coffee klatch at the Royal Blend cafe in Old Metairie. At some point, the group’s gossip shifted abruptly from the latest news about Donald Trump to a furtive young man seated at a nearby table.

He was filming the group, the sheriff said. “He was acting very strange and odd,” Normand said in an interview.

Normand confronted the young man, asking him what he was doing.

“Are you filming me?” the sheriff demanded.
I don't want to the ruin the beauty of this narrative. But to save time, yes, the kid was filming them. Why? Because David Vitter had hired him to. Why would he do that?  Well, now, that's where the fun begins.

First, here are the members of Newell's gossip group... or as the Advocate terms them, the "breakfast club." 
The sheriff’s breakfast club, composed of several regulars who come and go, continued chatting for a time, the sheriff said. Among the others at the table were Danny DeNoux, a local private investigator; John Cummings, a prominent local attorney; and Danny Martiny, the state senator who also works as an attorney for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office
So let's see.. Newell is definitely Emilio Estevez. Cummings is probably Anthony Michael Hall.  Let's say Martiny is played by Ally Sheedy.  Can't really say who Molly Ringwold is in this cast but Vitter's spook is most definitely Judd Nelson.

Only at some point he sorta morphs into Ferris Bueller.
Frenzel darted from the Metairie Road cafe toward St. Francis Xavier School, making his way toward Vincent Avenue, the sheriff said.

The man jumped the gate of an abandoned residence, prompting Normand to call several deputies to the scene to search for him, the sheriff said.

“Five deputies searched the backyards,” Normand said. “He trespassed through at least three or four properties.”

Frenzel eventually was found hiding behind an air-conditioning unit in the 100 block of Stella Street and taken into custody. He was booked on one count of criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, and was released Friday evening, the sheriff said.
Anyway, it's not clear just which Breakfast Clubber Vitter's PI was actually stalking.  His campaign said later that he was following a "John Bel Edwards business associate and major donor" which can only mean Cummings. There's reason to buy that. But there's also reason to believe Sheriff Normand was a target as well.. even if he seems a bit baffled by it himself. 
Normand, who faces token opposition in his re-election bid for sheriff Saturday and had publicly flirted with a bid for governor, is a longtime political enemy of Vitter.

“What do I have to do with the governor’s race? Everybody knows I endorsed (Lt. Gov.) Jay Dardenne,” Normand said. “Everybody at that table is very upset with this. I didn’t know we had become the state of Russia.”

“Everybody does opposition research,” the sheriff added, “but quite frankly, I’m not the opposition.”
 Here's a picture of Newell looking not at all Kruschev-like as he addresses an audience very far away from "the state of Russia."


Anyway, the trail here, unsurprisingly leads back to our friend Jason and his investigation into Vitter's long simmering prostitution scandals. The Jefferson Parish deputies who arrested Frenzel today say they found a "dossier" on Jason in Frenzel's car. It is more than likely the PI was surveiling Jason and his sources. Why did the trail lead him out to the Old Metry Breakfast Club? No one can say just yet. But there are hints.

Oyster provides us with one here in an old post he linked back to tonight about "dark secrets" about David Vitter supposedly held by Normand's predecessor, the late Harry Lee.
Assuming Lee did again threaten "to reveal dark secrets" about Vitter in 2002, do you think he would he have done so without having solid evidence? Would he just bluff, and make some cryptic but vague remarks about Vitter's "moral fitness", OR did the Sheriff have "proof" in his backpocket about Vitter's "nameless sins"? Did Lee even know about Vitter's "New Orleans stories", or perhaps did Lee know about a different "Metairie story" that took place under his own jurisdiction? And if Lee did have solid evidence, why did he back down at the last minute in 1999 when Vitter ran against David Treen for U.S. Rep? And why didn't Lee make threats in 2004, when the GOP cleared the way for Vitter's Senatorial campaign?

Vitter is practically daring the press to find "hard evidence" of him whoring in New Orleans. The conventional wisdom is that Sen. Vitter will survive unless some evidence beyond the testimony of hookers is revealed. One wonders: what evidence, if any, is Harry Lee sitting on-- and why?
The suggestion is that Normand and pals still have access to this "evidence" once held by his old boss. And that it is evidence Jason may very well be trying to produce. This is from the AZ post about the new Wendy Ellis revelations
It is very important to her, and very important to me, that the identity of the child remain anonymous and I realize that it would be the one foolproof way to corroborate her story but I believe it can be corroborated by other means than putting the child's well being at risk.  I do know more about the adoption and I personally believe the information she provided in this interview to be true.
Finally, remember that shrill TV reporter Vitter supposedly had fired for asking about the prostitutes? He's on Twitter tonight publishing things people email to him.

Oddly enough, after everything that's happened, we seem to have landed on "Where's the birth certificate?"

It's all very amusing... and sleazy.. and "colorful" if you will. But it's also pretty sickening.  If these and some of the other stories flying around about Vitter (and yes the rumor mill gets even worse than what all of this might indicate) are true he's not only a moral hypocrite, but also someone who has allowed his hypocrisy and ambition to harm many others in frightful ways. It would be... um... bad if he became Governor.

But we already knew that, didn't we? (Not so fast, Times-Picayune.) What I mean is, we already knew.. or should have known.. that elections are about more than the personal character of the individual candidates.  They're are popular referenda  on competing programs for the future of the state.  It's not enough to just elect "Anybody But Vitter."  The point is to elect Somebody but Vitter. And despite what our failed MSM opinion-makers would have us believe,our choice of who that somebody ends up being really does matter.

Like I said earlier, I had planned to make those press failures the theme of this post but the Vitter stuff kind of exploded on us so, instead, here is a short version of what we have learned following these candidates. There are key differences in the sorts of programs each would enact. The most clear distinction is between John Bel Edwards and his Republican opponents. At least on the issues the candidates have been asked about, here is how Edwards is different from the other three.

1) Edwards will immediately accept the Medicaid expansion associated with the Affordable Care Act. Jindal has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars tilting at that windmill. The other Republicans say they are open to accepting the money but when asked about it adopt Jindal's baseless rhetoric about waivers and exceptions in case the law somehow ends up not saying what it says. Edwards won't waffle like this. He'll just do what Jindal should have done years ago.

2) Edwards supports a raise in the minimum wage. During a recent debate, Jay Dardenne asserted a common right wing idiocy about minimum wage raises leading to unemployment. Angelle and Vitter are similarly hostile. Angelle, in fact, makes a point of talking about how he's going to make welfare recipients work harder to "pull the wagon" which is a line he also adopted from Jindal.  Dardenne and Angelle are openly and irrationally hostile to the working poor. Edwards's stance on Medicaid and minimum wage stands in stark contrast to them here.

3) Edwards is the only candidate to have expressed at least some middling support for legal action against the oil and gas industry over coastal loss. Dardenne, Vitter, and.. especially Angelle are made of oil money.

There are several other issues, particularly where it relates to the state budget where, although the candidates sound similar, I would argue that Edwards is more likely to do the responsible thing. In the final debate, for example, he said he would "cap and sunset" all of the special tax credit programs that have blown a huge hole in the budget over the past decade. None of the other candidates has stated this as strongly.

Edwards is still a pretty conservative guy. He's a military dude. His whole family is made up of sheriffs. He's pro-gun and anti-choice. There's a lot not to like. But on several very substantive questions that the next Governor will face, he's head and shoulders above the rest of those clowns.

And yet, with a few exceptions it has felt to me this year like I have been among a very slim minority of commenters in non-traditional media even talking about any of this. I have long believed that the potential of citizen-driven media lies in the opportunity it affords us to shift the narrative away from the superficial, bought off, or burnt out focus of commercial press and place it back on the actual consequences of politics for ordinary people.

This is an election whose outcome will have serious consequences. It's an election that Edwards can win if he ends up facing Vitter in the runoff. This is why it matters that we pay attention to how, when, and why, events occur which affect whether or not that happens.  That is, if we give a shit. Apparently some of us do not.
Berry is highly critical of the senator's support for the social-conservative Louisiana Family Forum, which opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, and he spent nearly half a decade chasing down leads about Vitter's alleged dalliances—all of which ended in dead-ends. "I don't give a shit what the candidates are doing," he says. "I don't give a shit about the election. I've been working on this story since 2010."
How very noble. Of course, I appreciate that what Jason means here is that his reporting is not simply hack work on behalf of any campaign.  I fully respect the integrity of what he's doing. But this doesn't absolve him of the responsibility to pay attention to the way it affects and is affected by the campaigns. 
The tip on the Ellis story came from an opposition researcher, who Berry says was not affiliated with a specific campaign, although he couldn't say for sure what the individual's motive was. The researcher "just found her for me and said, 'Hey do you want to talk to her? I've got her. Hey do you want to call her? I've got her number.' I'm not denying that." From there, Berry says he coaxed Ellis into talking. He chose the questions. He decided to pull the trigger.
Again, here is where Jason will correctly point out that he has to take this opportunity to talk to Ellis. But we can't just dismiss the reasons why she's all of a sudden available to him.  Remember there's a lot of money and information floating around that isn't technically "affiliated with a specific campaign" if it's funded by a PAC.. or... shared between PACs. 
A Democratic-affiliated PAC that was set up to target U.S. Sen. David Vitter in the Louisiana governor's race gave money to a PAC set up to support Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a Republican, earlier this month.

Campaign finance reports show that Gumbo PAC donated $5,000 on Sept. 14 to the Now or Never PAC, which spends money to support Dardenne.  Gumbo PAC is run by Trey Ourso, the former executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party.

In spite of its Democratic political ties, Gumbo PAC describes itself as a group supporting "anybody but Vitter" in the governor's race. Dardenne is also actively courting Democratic voters in his gubernatorial bid. As a Republican, Dardenne claims he has a better shot of beating Vitter statewide than does state Rep. John Bel Edwards, the only major Democratic candidate running in the race.
That $5,000 donation was later explained to a reporter as having paid for "research." It could be anything. I'm not saying that this specific transaction has anything to do with Ellis suddenly becoming available to talk. But clearly the person who got the lead for Jason was funded somehow.  Also, probably meaningless, but remember $5,000 is the price Ellis claims she charged Vitter to keep her as an "exclusive" client during their relationship.

Anyway, the point is parties are making this information known now.. before the primary happens.. specifically because they don't want Vitter in the runoff. Which necessarily means the parties undertaking these transactions prefer one of the other Republicans to John Bel Edwards. I know there is some subtlety involved in coaxing information out of these sources but I still have to point out that aiding them in timing this story just so is tantamount to working to elect a Republican governor.

It's still a great story, and I hope it was worth it. I hope when this is over we never have to put up with David Vitter and his slimy smirk ever again. But as someone who does, in fact, "give a shit" about the result of this election.. as we all should... I do hope we have him to kick around for just a few more weeks.

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