Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The 49 State Republican

Back in 2003 I supported Bobby Jindal for governor and backed him in his later congressional bids. When Jindal announced he was going to run again for governor in early 2007, I immediately lined up behind his candidacy.

Later on that year I decided to make a run for a vacant seat in the state House of Representatives. But there was a wrinkle: one of Jindal’s major opponents for governor not only lived in my home parish but was a registered voter in the very legislative district I was running in.

Having made my commitment to Jindal, I chose to do something many of my fellow politicos thought was unwise: I took out a newspaper ad sharing why this Saint Bernard Parish resident was voting for Jindal over the “favorite son”.

I wasn’t content to do the “quiet political thing”. I felt he was the best choice for governor in 2003 and my mind didn’t change four years later. After all, an important part of being a public official is making hard decisions that might not be very popular but could very well be in the same public’s best interest.

Unfortunately for me, I ended up missing the runoff by 35 votes. Did my decision to announce my support for Jindal over the local gubernatorial candidate cost me votes? Undoubtedly.

Did it cost me three-dozen votes that would have advanced me to the general election? Possibly.

Would I have done it all over again? Absolutely.

Though it might not have been the politically smart move, it was the right thing to do.

My community in particular suffered the consequences from the results of the 2003 gubernatorial election and it was time to put in office in 2007 the man who should have been elected the last time.

So in 2007, Mike Bayham stepped up to the plate for Bobby Jindal. And now Mike Bayham is waiting for the governor to step up to the plate for his fellow Republicans.

How can Jindal travel around the country talking about the need to elect conservatives to Congress to fight the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda while refusing to travel to Houma, Kenner and Chalmette to do the same for local conservative candidates?

Thus far, Jindal, through his spokespeople, have drawn a curious line in the sand demarcating that they will not get involved in Louisiana federal elections. Why? No comment.

The apparent reason is that he does not, and please pardon this crass political pun, want to climb in bed with the state’s junior US Senator. And while David Vitter has been called many things by his Democratic opponents over the years, stupid has not been one of them…with good reason.

Vitter is perhaps the most politically cunning Republican to emerge and might very well be the state’s smartest politician since Edwin Edwards.

Vitter and anyone else with a political IQ over 100 sees Jindal’s position for what it is, though candidate Vitter has publicly ignored the slight. At least until November 2nd.

But why is the Republican governor abandoning Congressman Joseph Cao, Third District US Representative candidate Jeff Landry and incumbent Secretary of State and lieutenant governor candidate Jay Dardenne, who lack Vitter’s political baggage but also his strong poll numbers and well-stocked campaign warchest as well.

Cao’s race is a Republican defense against a machine politician backed by New Orleans City Hall.

A Landry win in the Third District would be a pick up for the national GOP and one less vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker.

A Dardenne victory would return to the Republican fold an office that hasn’t been occupied by a Republican since Paul Hardy left office in 1992.

While his voting record won’t be confused with neighboring Congressman Steve Scalise anytime soon, Cao has voted against the stimulus, cap and trade and ultimately opposed President Obama’s health care legislation.

Cao is also poster boy for the national GOP’s push to diversify their image with the general electorate and did Louisiana an outstanding service by taking out corrupt US Representative Bill Jefferson. The latter act contributed mightily towards helping change Louisiana’s image and political culture. Why isn’t Jindal raising money for Cao?

The Third District is unique in that it not only produced Vitter’s Democratic opponent for re-election this November, it was a safe GOP seat that went the other way in 2004 because of a split within the Louisiana Republican Party. As neither Hunt Downer nor Kristian Magar have endorsed Landry’s candidacy, there’s a possibility of a repeat if both unsuccessful Republican primary candidates try to spike Landry’s guns the last week of the election.

Here is a natural setting for a popular Republican leader like Jindal to step in to bring the GOP together so the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

The most bizarre neutral position is the lieutenant governor’s race. Dardenne is not only a state candidate (so Jindal’s federal embargo would not apply) but his election would free Jindal to pursue other ambitions later if so moved after re-election.

Beyond serving his own political interests, Jindal’s “Swiss-Stance” conflicts with the cause he claims to champion. If something unfortunate were to happen to a governor who spends so much time on airplanes he should be sporting a set of wings on his lapel and a Democrat held the office of lieutenant governor, then there would be an entire change of administration, personnel and governing philosophy.

Think about that for a minute. All of the millions of dollars Republicans in Louisiana sent to Jindal’s campaign and the tens of thousands of sweat equity invested in his political career by Republican activists wiped out due to a freak accident and, in the blink of an eye, replaced by an ideological opposite who has benefited from fundraisers hosted by ex-President Bill Clinton and who has not shied away from Obama.

But such a change goes deeper than who’s sleeping in the Governor’s Mansion.

Add in legislative leadership (since Speaker of the House and President of the State Senate are practically cabinet appointments by the governor) and the possibility of selecting a US Senator if either or both of the state’s US Senators left office early.

The GOP’s capacity to filibuster was changed with the death of Ted Kennedy. In the past ten years control of the US Senate has shifted by a single party change so I’m not engaging in wild political speculation here.

And then there’s support for the party. All of a sudden the Louisiana Democratic Party would have immediate control of patronage, appointments to commissions and their fundraising capability would receive a major boost.

And should we forget that it was from the office of Lieutenant Governor that Blanco spring boarded into governor?

Jindal’s neutrality in the state’s federal races borders on hypocrisy; his abstaining from the race for lieutenant governor is downright irresponsible.

I’ve heard a number of theories of why he’s staying out, ranging from the trial lawyers sudden embracing of him to a potential conflict with Indian-American fundraisers who backed Jindal’s runs for governor and are supporting fellow Ivy League Indian-American Ravi Sangisetti for Congress in the Third District.

Whatever the reasons are, they’re all bad excuses in the face of a potential political reality.

I’ll admit a conflict of interest being a Republican working for the election of other Republicans but watching Jindal hustle for Republican candidates in Wisconsin but not Louisiana would appear strange to even people who don’t follow politics closely.

I don’t know who’s giving Jindal this bad advice and I don’t know why the governor seems to be following it, but Jindal needs to start being Mr. Republican in Louisiana instead of just Mr. Republican in the 49 Other States.

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