The Advocate Blog Network

Banner image

So what happens if Vance McAllister actually does step down?

Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana Republican Party have asked new — and newly scandal-plagued — U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister to resign.

McAllister, the family-values Christian conservative who was caught on video kissing an aide, hasn’t shown any sign of heeding those calls. But what if he does? Then what?

Well, that’s up to Jindal, who’s got two options, both of which come with significant downsides.

Senate vacancies are filled by gubernatorial appointment, but when a House member leaves in mid-term, the next step is a special election. That, you’ll recall, is how McAllister won his seat in the first place, after U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander quit to become Jindal’s secretary of veterans affairs.

But under state law, it’s up to the governor to choose the election date. Jindal could pick the next regularly scheduled election, which isn’t until Nov. 4, the same day as the regular Congressional contests. That, though, would leave the 5th District without representation for as much as seven months, depending on when McAllister makes it official.

Jindal could also pick a date that’s not on the regular election calendar. But that would put the state on the hook for the cost of an extra election, roughly $1.2 million. Not exactly the fiscally conservative approach.

If a special election were to be held in November, the new representative could be sworn in right away and participate in votes during the a lame duck session. Other newly elected members wouldn’t take office until the new term in January.

So far, all such speculation is moot. McAllister has said that he plans to offer himself up to voters this fall, even if the field promises to be far larger and more competitive. In the meantime, according to an AP report, he remains in seclusion with his wife and family for the remainder of the Easter recess.

SNL takes on Bobby Jindal. A little. Well, not really.

For months now, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s been doing anything and everything a politician can do to get noticed beyond his state’s borders. Judging by this weekend’s opening sketch from “Saturday Night Live,” he’s not making much headway, at least beyond the insider crowd.

If SNL is a measure of lowest-common-denominator pop culture, then let’s just say that Jindal hasn’t made anything like an impression. The good news is that the show’s writers know his name, and figured it would ring a bell among audience members watching a skit about Republicans courting young voters at the Coachella music festival.

But while the bit featured somewhat recognizable impersonations of Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, its brief portrayal of Jindal was downright weird.

There was no attempt to imitate his rapid-fire speaking style or riff off his politics, despite a relentless itinerary of national get-to-know-you appearances. There were no jokes about his stubborn refusal to accept Medicaid expansion, his testy relationship with President Barack Obama, his forays into the culture wars.

Oh, and one other thing: The cast member who played Jindal was, inexplicably, a woman, the petite, Iranian-born Nasim Pedrad.

So forget all those years of trudging around Louisiana in cowboy boats, cozying up to football luminaries and reality show hunters, and talking tough about the president.

The message from Saturday night was that, to the extent that he’s known at all, Jindal’s known for being slight and not particularly macho. And kind of ethnic, in a generic sense. And having a name that rhymes with swindle (at least they got the pronunciation right).

Not exactly the image he’s going for.

Sen. Vitter, aka Mr. Popularity? New poll says so

And Louisiana’s most popular major public official is….drum roll, please…..David Vitter! At least according to a new poll sponsored by Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby.

The once scandal-plagued junior senator and gubernatorial hopeful has a 56 percent approval rating, easily ahead of Treasurer John Kennedy 49, Gov. Bobby Jindal at 45 and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne at 41 percent. Dardenne, a fellow Republican and also a candidate for governor next year, can take consolation in the fact that just eleven percent voiced an unfavorable opinion of him, compared to 33 percent who don’t like Vitter.

Pollsters didn’t ask whether voters like Democratic New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is rumored to be considering a run, but they did test his appeal versus the declared candidates. He and Vitter landed in a statistical tie for first place, with 26 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Dardenne trailed with 13 percent, followed by the only announced Democrat, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, with five percent.

Vitter’s colleague Mary Landrieu also fared much worse, with 41 holding a favorable impression and 52 unfavorably disposed — a sign of real trouble for an incumbent about to face reelection. Her lead opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, drew positive marks from 26 percent of the poll’s respondents, but only 12 percent said they were unimpressed. The biggest bloc of voters interviewed, 38 percent, said they’ve never heard of the guy.

But the public figure with the poll’s best positive/negative ratio isn’t planning to appear on any upcoming ballot at all, although there are people who’d like him to. He’s retired Lt. General Russel Honoré, the hero of Katrina and now an environmental activist in Louisiana. Thirty-five percent of the people interviewed like the general, while just three percent don’t.

Interviews for this poll were completed by telephone with 600 likely Louisiana voters from March 24 to March 26, 2014 by Magellan Strategies BR. Results are here:

For Mary Landrieu, it could be worse

The next time U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu gets down over all those television ads attacking her for supporting President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, at least she can take comfort in the fact that she’s not Kay Hagan.

Hagan is Landrieu’s North Carolina counterpart, a Democrat who backed the Affordable Care Act who’s now facing the fight of her life to win another six-year term. And like Landrieu, Hagan has landed in the crosshairs of Americans For Prosperity, the Koch brothers-backed advocacy group that’s spending this election season pummeling ACA backers on the air.

But that $2.9 million AFP’s spent so far on anti-Landrieu ads? That’s relatively small potatoes compared to the whopping $7 million the group has invested in its effort to unseat Hagan, or 44 percent of the $16 million AFP has spent so far to knock out ACA supporters in the Senate, according to the Washington Post.

That doesn’t mean AFP is any less opposed to Landrieu or the other Democratic incumbents defending seats in states that Mitt Romney carried. The difference, according to the Post, is that television time is simply more expensive in the more heavily populated North Carolina than in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska.

Whatever the reason, Hagan’s declining poll numbers suggest the onslaught is having its desired effect. Landrieu too has seen her race tighten up since the ACA’s botched rollout, and the ads surely haven’t helped her cause. But get ready for a counterpunch: Democratic third-party groups may not be able to match AFP’s investment, but Landrieu’s campaign is about to launch its own TV campaign, to the tune of a cool $2.6 million.

Tracking Elvis?

As usual, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s annual Washington Mardi Gras karaoke party over the weekend was packed. As usual, attorney general and amateur Elvis impersonator Buddy Caldwell wowed the crowd when he donned a pair of cool shades and crooned an impressive rendition of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” And as usual, several members of the audience whipped out cameras to capture the moment.

Not all the photographers were necessarily there for the fun of it. Rumor had it on Saturday that one guy who filmed Caldwell’s performance may have actually been one of those newfangled campaign trackers, the folks who record politicians in public places in the hope of catching something that can be used against them. And sure enough, within days after the party, Caldwell had an official big-name opponent for reelection next year, former U.S. Rep. and Tea Party stalwart Jeff Landry, and LaPolitics’ Jeremy Alford was reporting that conservative operatives were “trying to make hay” over the fact that Caldwell, a relatively recent Republican, was in DC socializing with the state’s top Democrat.

So if you happen to spot the scene in some upcoming campaign ad, you’ll know where it came from.

Washington Mardi Gras revelers wonder: Where’s Bobby?

Washington, DC — The annual Washington Mardi Gras, a raucous long-weekend business/pleasure gathering, always draws a big crowd of statewide officials, members of Congress, mayors, parish presidents, legislators, staffers, consultants, lobbyists, business and interest group leaders, and pretty much anyone else who lives and breathes Louisiana politics.

This year, there’s been considerable whispering among those who are here about someone who, for the most part, isn’t: Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Jindal is supposed to attend the weekend’s climactic ball, as part of a trip to the nation’s capital to meet with the Republican Governors Association, the National Governors Association and, along with other governors, President Barack Obama. Before heading home he’ll swing through Chicago to raise money for his new Washington, DC policy think tank and speak before Illinois Republicans.

But he’s mostly been absent during the long days of meetings and receptions, which many here shrug off as part of a pattern of detachment from state issues.

While the congressional delegation and local leaders have been singularly focused on averting huge rate increases from the National Flood Insurance Program, for example, Jindal just weighed in with a letter last week. The letter espoused the approach reflected in a Senate bill championed by Democrat Mary Landrieu and passed by a large margin in the upper chamber, not an alternative that was officially filed Friday by members of Jindal’s own party in the House, but it wasn’t clear whether he was taking sides or just not up to speed on the latest developments. Back home, lawmakers are still waiting for information about Jindal’s agenda for a legislative session that starts in just two weeks, according to a report by The Lens’ Tyler Bridges.

Jindal’s low profile during the event may have caught people’s notice, but it didn’t seem to take too many by surprise. That the governor is focused on national politics these days is considered simply a given. One regular attendee noted that he probably sees little reason to work the hometown crowd.

“If he runs for president,” this person said, “everyone here already knows whether they’d vote for him or not.”

The (sort of) serious side of Washington Mardi Gras

Washington, DC — Washington Mardi Gras is known for its boisterous parties, but there’s a serious side too — well, sort of. So acknowledged Sen. David Vitter, when he declared the annual economic development luncheon one of the most substantive events of the weekend, then added that “some would say that’s not a very high bar.”

Indeed, the Friday lunch was a boisterous affair as well.

There were plenty of laughs. Some were intentional, like when this year’s chairman, Rep. John Fleming, said that his king and queen took their roles so seriously that they endured “scepter lessons.” Some were unintentional, like Fleming’s gaffe in introducing Sen. Mary Landrieu not as the state’s senior senator but as “our senior citizen,” and his confessed befuddlement over a line in his apparently staff-written intro of the Air Force general on hand to deliver a keynote address.

“He’s from New Jersey, but has never ordered a traffic study,” Fleming said uncomfortably, before adding: “I don’t know what that means.” Who knew anyone in politics wasn’t following the Chris Christie saga?

There were frequent nods to the delegation’s bipartisan efforts to help the state’s economy, its success in preventing deep job losses at Fort Polk, and its energetic and monolithic support for the oil and gas industries.

There wasn’t much political maneuvering, although Landrieu, facing a serious challenge from Rep. Bill Cassidy, couldn’t help but slip in a little election-year messaging. Noting her new role as chair of the Senate’s Energy Committee, she threw in that “it’s taken me 18 years to step into this position.”

And there was indeed some serious discussion, although it drifted toward giddy excitement. Stephen Moret, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s economic development secretary, shared only good news and tons of it, of more new investment in Louisiana than even in Texas, of positive rankings on various business scales, and of huge growth in the natural gas, offshore drilling, maritime and tech sectors.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the future of Louisiana is incredibly bright, and it’s getting brighter every day,” said.

Okay, before everyone reaches for their shades, it’s worth remembering the many challenges to the business climate that merited only passing mention, from deep cuts to higher education to flaws in a bill to reform the National Flood Insurance Program that, if not remedied, could devastate much of the state’s real estate market.

Then there was this from the delegation’s newest member, Rep. Vance McAllister, who represents an inland, impoverished district that benefits little from the resource-reliant industries driving much of Moret’s good news.

“Let’s don’t forget about the 5th District,” he implored. “Let’s don’t forget about the runt of the litter.”

He also thanked his colleagues that voted for the recent, highly contentious farm bill, which does target one of his district’s main sectors. Never mind that only half the house delegation, McAllister and fellow Republicans Bill Cassidy and Charles Boustany, actually cast yes votes. (Democrat Cedric Richmond voted no because the cuts to food assistance were too deep, while Republicans Steve Scalise and Fleming said it did too little to control entitlements.)

“It’s a mess here, it really is,” McAllister said. “But you’ve got a great team in Louisiana.”

Greetings from Washington Mardi Gras

Washington, DC — New Orleans traditional jazz wafts out into the driveway of the Washington Hilton, and hotel workers liven up their uniforms with glistening beads. It’s Carnival Time, not just in Louisiana but the buttoned-down nation’s capital.

The annual Washington Mardi Gras, which runs through the weekend, is a strange concoction. There are extravagant parties, including a dress-out ball complete with mock royalty. There’s serious business, including scores of meetings on locally vital issues such as the future of the National Flood Insurance Program — more on that later in the weekend. There’s plenty of glad-handing and catching up, and there’s gossip galore.

Lobbyists get plenty of face time with lawmakers. And while Louisiana’s congressional delegation is loaded with active combatants in this town’s ideological wars, the state’s members of Congress get to share some rare bipartisan camaraderie — even though two of its members, Mary Landrieu and Bill Cassidy, are already locked in a nasty battle for Senate seat that could very well determine control of the chamber.

Washington doesn’t exactly go wild during the weekend, but the hotel’s two bars, one of which is temporarily christened the “65th Parish,” draw so many officials, insiders and junkies that they basically swallow up the entire lobby.

One of Washington Mardi Gras’ signature events, Thursday night’s “Louisiana Alive” reception, is always a hot ticket among both Washingtonians and visitors from down south, and it’s easy to see why. This year’s party featured acrobats and Louisiana chefs scooping out seafood specialties. The Storyville Stompers performed, as did a Lady Gaga impersonator who opened with the gay pride anthem “Born This Way.” Festively dressed women and more than a few men in conservative Washington suits wrapped themselves in brightly colored boas, which shed all over the place.

They weren’t really the ones generating the buzz, though; the politicos are the stars of this show. Jay Dardenne, Billy Nungesser, Buddy Caldwell, John Young, Kip Holden. and assorted Connicks and Landrieus were in the building. Mary Landrieu stood for a while at the party’s entrance, accepting well wishes in her big new role as the Senate’s Energy Committee chair. Paul Rainwater, who just announced he’s leaving his job as Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff, was on hand, looking awfully relaxed. So was Garret Graves, who just left his job as Jindal’s coastal advisor; his presence prompted at least one conversation across the room over whether he’s really thinking of running for the 6th District Congressional seat that Cassidy’s giving up to challenge Landrieu.

Saturday night, the Hilton’s main ball room will fill with formally-dressed revelers, costumed krewes representing each of the delegation’s members, princesses and festival queens, and mini-floats. John Fleming is this year’s chairman, and he named Shreveport physician Larry Matthew Allen as this year’s king, and SMU student Sarah Louise Bicknell as queen. Presiding over it all will be David Vitter, the Mystick Krewe of Louisiana’s captain, whose looming gubernatorial bid figures into much of the weekend’s political intrigue.

But on Thursday night, the ballroom’s prime balcony real estate belonged to various sponsors, government relations firms and energy companies, interest groups and economic development arms from various parts of the state. The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation’s booth sported not the organization’s name but its current slogan, “Follow Your NOLA.” The Jefferson Chamber too had a booth. Its members always turn out in force; this year, more than 70 are on hand.

Some sponsors, like Dow Chemical and the law/lobbying firm of Adams and Reese, had ordered up custom logo beads to toss. They were throwing like crazy over at the BP booth, but alas, I spotted none with the corporate label. Too bad. They surely would have become collectors’ items.

Ray Nagin corruption conviction chat with Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace

An only vaguely football-themed election postmortem

There were countless ways to characterize the Denver’s dismal Super Bowl performance on Sunday, but one that made me chuckle most came from a prolific New Orleans blogger who goes by the Twitter handle “Skooks.”

“The Broncos are playing Bagneris campaign level football tonight,” the tweet read.

Okay, former judge Michael Bagneris’ campaign against Mayor Mitch Landrieu wasn’t that bad. But it’s true that, like the Broncos’ storied offense, the Bagneris campaign got off on the wrong foot and never recovered. The campaign’s launch centered far more on personal complaints about the mayor from political insiders than on issues that might catch an average voter’s imagination. Just as Peyton Manning made some good plays, Bagneris eventually found a few effective lines of argument, like his assertion that the recovery is not benefiting everyone equally. But the overall execution was off.

The bigger story was that Mayor Mitch Landrieu was on — Seattle Seahawks on. He had the muscle, in the form of money, a winning game plan emphasizing how far the recovery has come since he took office and vowing to finish what he started, and the talent to make it all work. Despite all the pre-election build-up, he didn’t need to break a sweat.

Moving on from the mayor’s race and the bad football analogies, but still on the topic of impressive performances:

At-large Councilwoman Stacy Head was always a favorite for reelection, but she did more than just beat Eugene Green. She established herself as someone who can rally strong support across racial and geographic lines almost as well as her sometimes sparring partner, the mayor himself. Head’s 62 percent showing, including 42 percent among black voters, according to an analysis by UNO’s Ed Chervenak, stood in stark contrast to her initial citywide victory, when won her seat by a whisper in a racially polarized election. Just two years later, she nearly matched the mayor’s showing despite an abrasive style that she’s clearly worked hard to tone down and despite — or perhaps in some cases because of — her sometime adversarial approach toward the administration. Her transformation from lightning rod to widely respected politician seems pretty complete.

And strangely enough, Sheriff Marlin Gusman did remarkably well, given the well-deserved criticism he’s been facing over scandalous conditions at the prison he manages. Even though he presided over an epic debacle, he managed to position himself as change agent (granted, under a federal consent decree that he at first deemed unnecessary). Of course, it didn’t hurt that Gusman’s opponents were just as unpalatable, and that he and Landrieu seem to have signed some form of mutual non-aggression pact. Gusman just missed an outright victory but enters the runoff against his predecessor Charlie Foti as the clear favorite.

Out in New Orleans East, give incumbent Councilman James Gray credit for easily dispatching former Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who never cracked the citywide glass ceiling but was always popular on her home turf — and who used that popularity to help Gray win the seat just last year. As a serious candidate, we’ve probably seen, and heard, the last of her.

And don’t overlook the fact that two other council members proved their strength long before voters went to the polls, by fending on serious opposition. Susan Guidry drew four challengers who added up to little more than a nuisance. After just one year in office, LaToya Cantrell didn’t attract any opposition at all.

All in all, it was a very good weekend for incumbents. The two exceptions would be Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, who was forced into a runoff with Jason Williams for the vacant at-large seat, and Jackie Clarkson, who vacated that seat and is now seeking her old district job. Clarkson probably has an even shot at beating Nadine Ramsey in a runoff, but Hedge-Morrell now has to hope that voters who backed third wheel Freddie Charbonnet weren’t just looking to send her into retirement.

But the worst weekend award has to go not to any particular candidate, but to the assorted political groups that former Mayor Ray Nagin once dismissed as “alphabet soup” (before he teamed up with some of them, of course). LIFE, COUP, BOLD, SOUL, TIPS — all of them bet on Bagneris and all of them lost, continuing a long decline in influence due to population displacement after Katrina, a public corruption crackdown that snagged some of the city’s major leaders, and simple generational change. They didn’t strike much fear in opponents’ hearts before. Next time, they’ll strike even less.