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Louisiana’s Top 10 political stories of 2015

28th December 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Per tradition here at The Louisiana Weekly, here are the ten stories that impacted the Pelican State’s political world in 2015.

10. The monuments and Mitch’s 3rd term

The passions evoked by the Civil War statuary issue would have made the fiery controversy worthy of an entry. However, the Mayor’s political logic in sparking off the battle now only became clear early last week.

Regardless of one’s stand, partisans on both sides pondered what the political gain was to Mitch Landrieu by engaging in this fight as he entered his last year in office.

Catering to a major local African-American sensitivity such as removing the Beauregard and Lee Monuments would likely disqualify him from winning the 1/3 of the White vote that a Democrat needs to emerge victorious in a statewide election. Other than a Cabinet post in a Hillary Clinton Administration, the term-limited Mayor seemed only driven by personal distaste for the monuments.

Then, the news leaked out within days of the Council Ordinance that surrogates of Landrieu were polling the possibility of a Third Term. The political reasoning became clearer. By standing against the Monuments, Landrieu hopes he improves his image in the Black Community while reminding the white electorate that he is the only Caucasian that could win citywide.

Might the voters soon go to the polls for such a Charter amendment? Could Mitch succeed where Dutch and Marc Morial failed?

9. How little the Smoking Ordinance actually changed anything

No other controversy after the monuments engendered as much argument as the ban of smoking in bars and casinos. Yet, with the exception of Harrah’s, some of the most passionate opponents of the LaToya Cantrell’s ordinance have actually admitted that New Orleans is not most cities.

Ending the smoking ban made little difference in volume of business when there is no ‘closing time’. People were just as happy to step outside. Harrah’s continues to complain that its business has gone down, however, seeking to create an “outside” gambling area under the current dropoff canopy.

8. The strange victory of Obamacare in Louisiana

All three GOP gubernatorial candidates repudiated Bobby Jindal’s proverbial ‘line in the sand’ against expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The political environment had so changed in Louisiana that support of Obama-care had become a vote-getter.

Or at least that Medicaid element, as the public awoke to the fact that many of the hospital and healthcare cuts of the last four years never would have taken place. Now with a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion, will John Bel Edwards attempt to create a state exchange. Quite a few Republicans in the legislature look approvingly at Arkansas where the expanded Medicaid dollars were pared with exchange subsidies to provide free private healthcare coverage to the poor.

7. Return to late 19th-century ‘fusion’ politics

In the 1872 gubernatorial election, after eight years of GOP rule, the Republican Party split. Republican Henry Clay Warmouth swung his wing of the party behind Democrat John McEnery, insuring McEnery’s victory over William Pitt Kellogg, (though the certification process dragged on for years amidst Reconstruction). Advocates dubbed the alliance the “Fusion Ticket”, and it restored Democratic dominance in Louisiana for the next three generations.

Whether this “fusion” of Jay Dardenne Republicans with the Bel Edwards Democrats will do the same thing is yet to be seen. Every statewide office went Democratic in 1872, while, in contrast, the GOP made gains downticket in 2015. Still, the strategy is analogous, as is Dardenne’s role. Warmouth spent four years as the most influential player in McEnery’s Administration (when he finally got into office) as Dardenne will as Edwards’ Commissioner of Administration.

6. The potential downfall of Karen Carter Peterson

Or perhaps this entry is better called the quick death of Democratic “Fusion” politics—behind a Republican. Reportedly, Governor-Elect Bel Edwards has aimed to unseat Sen. Carter Peterson as Chairman of the State Democratic Party. Her heresy, pressuring Edwards to drop out of the race so that Democrats could unite behind a moderate Republican to defeat David Vitter.

Peterson has held the State Democratic Party together at a time when it seemed that every week one of its officeholders switched to the Republicans as the state party became increasingly more progressive. Sen. Peterson’s task was herculean, and she generally rose to the challenge.

But then it chose Republicans, from Jim Tucker as House Speaker to John Alario as Senate President, when it benefited Democrats in General, and New Orleans area Representatives in particular.

Reportedly, Governor-Elect Edwards has not forgotten Peterson’s apostasy when it applied to him and it is rumored that he seeks a different Party Chairman, one who both displays a moderate tone and is also loyal to Democratic candidates in all cases, when the State Democratic Central Committee meets after the New Year.

5. Divided Government Does Not Exist in Louisiana

Then again, it never did.

In 2008, Algiers Republican Jim Tucker earned the Speakership when Democrats still dominated the State House. The patronage of new Governor Bobby Jindal trumped any partisan loyalty, along with the support of New Orleans-area Democrats for Tucker.

It looks as if history will repeat itself if (and when) New Orleans Democratic Rep. Walt Leger III wins the Speakership in 2016.

He reportedly has the votes, thanks to crossover Republicans from metro New Orleans, although Old Jefferson Republican Rep. Cameron Henry, who was David Vitter’s designate for Speaker, is not giving up without a fight.

Henry argues that a GOP House deserves a Republican Speaker, and points to a GOP Caucus meeting that unanimously endorsed that Federalist Papers notion of divided branches of government.

It was a caucus meeting, though, to which many of his own Jefferson GOP colleagues did not show up. Now the SuperPAC “Committee for a Free Louisiana” is targeting the 18 metro area Republicans who are backing Leger, hoping to apply enough pressure for these House members to change their minds. With committee chairmanships in the offering, many like Covington Republican Rep. John Schroder, Leger’s designate for Appropria-tions head, have said “no way,” and that Leger is the next speaker.

4. Acadiana is no longer supreme

John Treen used to muse a dictum of Louisiana Politics. Every Governor elected either hailed from Acadiana or represented Cajun Country in Congress.

Until Bobby Jindal’s election in 2007, this proved true, but even in that case, Jindal did not face a serious Cajun opponent as he did in Kathleen Blanco in 2003. This year, however, the dictum fell apart. Logically, either Scott Angelle, the former President of St. Martin Parish, or David Vitter, who represented Acadiana in the Senate, should have prevailed over an unknown state representative.

Moreover, Elbert Guillory of Opelousas should have garnered more support than his three Lt. Governor opponents, and other downticket Cajuns should have done better. Perhaps it is the increasing GOP nature of the state, ironically, that have transformed Acadians from the prototypical swing voters between the parties into voters as willing to divide as everyone else; nevertheless, Acadiana no longer rules the electoral roost.

3. Sheriff’s still rule in Louisiana

Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards often voiced a dictum of Louisiana politics. In the Pelican State, the Governor is the King, and the Sheriffs are the Barons. As in the Middle Ages, if the King loses the support of the Barons, he loses his head.

Sheriffs historically made Governors, and they did it again this year. The endorsement of the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, and the very active campaigning of several individual sheriffs, inoculated Edwards against charges that he was too liberal.

While Jay Dardenne’s endorsement of John Bel Edwards may have started the process, La. Sheriffs provided the final “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for these swing voters, allowing Republicans disgusted with David Vitter’s character lapses to cross party lines and support the Democrat. The Sheriffs’ support inoculated Edwards from the U.S. Senator’s “Obama-lite” attacks on his opponent, and stopped this GOP swing electorate from rushing home to the Republican fold in fear. (One can read the reasons why at )

2. The lost opportunity of Bobby Jindal

Everyone has known for two years but Bobby Jindal—and perhaps Timmy Teppel—that the Louisiana Governor was not going to be the GOP candidate for President. What a tragedy that Jindal so focused on that course. As former Louisiana Democratic Insurance Commissioner and Sec. State Jim Brown observed to this newspaper, “Bobby Jindal could have been the greatest Governor Louisiana ever had.”

Brown noted how Jindal’s incredible intellect once offered such promise. His willingness to come up with innovative ideas marked his career prior to ascending to the Governor’s Mansion in such a way that Jindal seemed uniquely able to draw the best ideas of Right and Left into a new innovative synthesis. From assuming the Department of Health and Hospitals at 24, non-ideological transformative innovation was his specialty.

What if Jindal had continued on that path, instead of tailoring his every political move for the last eight years towards pleasing GOP primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire? Could the Louisiana Governor have been the font of solutions to the Pelican State’s intractable problems? Did the fatal flaw of hopeless ambition bend the Rhodes scholar into a conservative caricature of himself? (As to what happened, read at )

1. The downfall of who many said was the ‘invincible’ David Vitter

Or perhaps the better entry was the prostitute story finally stuck. It just took hiring private investigators to follow a Sheriff to do it.

Or maybe it was the devastating commercial that Vitter missed a vote honoring the death of soldiers to telephone a call girl that did the trick, but at least a third of GOP voters had enough.

Since The Louisiana Weekly first broke the Wendy Cortez (Yow Ellis) prostitute tale on June 3, 2002, the electorate seemed to forgive Vitter’s transgressions, even providing him a U.S. Senate seat without a runoff in 2004, and a re-election victory over Cong. Charlie Melancon in 2010.

In the meantime, Vitter built up a Louisiana political machine that struck fear in wavering elected officials. The parallel party some proclaimed it, and this GOP operation had ultimate loyalty only to David Vitter. Politicians were ‘convinced’ to hire political consultants loyal to the Senator, and devoted followers were given $1,000 a plate fundraisers in Washington. (Cameron Henry had one when he ran for State Rep., before even holding office.)

Vitter seemed unbeatable, and those that opposed him lost jobs, government work, and opportunity. And then, on November 21, 2015, it all fell apart.

The irony of David Vitter parallels his enemy Bobby Jindal.

The two Republicans were Rhodes Scholars of such incredible intellect and promise that they could have transformed Louisiana for the better. These policy wonks spouted ideas of merit throughout their career, and both had a proven record of passage of laws against great odds. Vitter enacted term limits while in the House, and Jindal instituted school vouchers. Agree or disagree, these were great political feats.

Yet, both men saw their careers end at a too young age thanks to a fatal flaw. Jindal’s obsession with the Presidency undermined his Governorship, and ended his reforms. Vitter’s inability to humble himself, responding with anger to his critics did the same. For, in the end, it was not some sex addiction that ended the Senator’s career. It was the inability to be sorry, and make amends.

To be both a good politician, and a good Christian, in other words.

Happy New Year and Joyeux Noel.

This article originally published in the December 28, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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