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Future ambition makes present lt. gov. race interesting

Qualifying begins today for a replacement lieutenant governor to be elected this fall, normally a next-to-useless office that deserved dismantling – but this time perhaps producing an election with actual long-term significance to state policy.

Former occupant Mitch Landrieu actually took a step up when he vacated it this spring to assume the mayor’s job in New Orleans, triggering this election. The office does little which does make it cushy but by no means leaves its occupants with much of a political future. Until former Gov. Kathleen Blanco ascended from the job to her final elective office just six years ago, no lieutenant governor in the post-1921 Constitution era had succeeded directly from the job to a better or even comparable slot, and former Gov. Jared Sanders was the last to do it in 1908. Not only usually has it been a political dead-end for the politically-ambitious looking for a stepping stone to grander things, but also on this present occasion the remaining term lasts just a year so you have to do it all over again next year.

Yet now the office has been most coveted by the status-climbing Republican Sec. of State Jay Dardenne, who has campaigned vigorously for it. That at this time he holds an office arguably more important might bring into question why he would make, in ordinary times, at best lateral move he would have to defend next year if successful this year, when he could cruise to reelection in his present post. But, these are no ordinary times.

While Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, after attracting, given the calculations involved, unwarranted speculation about his running for president in 2012, surely will eschew that for another four years in the Governor’s Mansion, his stock has continued to rise as a vice presidential candidate in two years. As Republican chances look better and better all the time for a recapture of the White House then, so do increase the chances that Jindal will serve but one year of a second term and the lieutenant governor will ascend to the top spot in that eventuality. Not since former Gov. John McKeithen’s name was bandied about 45 years ago for the same fate on the Democrat side has this level of certainty about promotion existed, enlarging dramatically the office’s value.

Even if Jindal stays put either by non-selection or the unlikely reelection of Pres. Barack Obama, the office might be of use to Dardenne for a campaign in 2014 against (or maybe not if she retires) Sen. Mary Landrieu. Cutting a lot of ribbons (the main job of the lieutenant governor in reality) gets one to meet a lot of influential people, and it’s possible one reason why Dardenne favored the recent reverting of Congressional elections from closed to blanket primaries is to set up a Senate contest he might be more likely to win without having to pursue the Republican nomination.

This is because many conservatives regard Dardenne with suspicion as too much a political chameleon lacking true conservative principles. A decade ago when a state Senate floor leader, he easily acquiesced in big-spending, tax-raising policy. But five years later, he seemed reborn as a spending hawk for no new taxes. That reputation nearly cost him in his run for his current spot; had closed primaries been in effect for that contest, he well might have lost the putative Republican nomination to genuine conservative businessman Mike Francis.

He will face a similar challenge this time facing businessman Roger Villere, chairman of the state GOP and who has unabashedly promoted conservatism as part of that job. His hope would be that he can get enough of the conservative vote away from Villere to make a runoff. Complicating his task will be the additional presence of Republican St. Tammany Parish Pres. Kevin Davis, although having singer Sammy Kershaw on the ballot might help if more libertarian-minded voters prefer the award-winning musician over Villere.

Just this field makes a runoff more likely than not, but making one absolutely certain would come from the entrance of Democrat Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell. He would be the perfect candidate for that party because, after having made some big land sales to government and (ironically, after having led a political career of hyper-critical regard for the energy industry) becoming a beneficiary of Haynesville Shale gas exploration, he can largely self-finance a non-trivial candidacy. The party, besieged with an electoral disaster brewing this fall and beyond, has no resources to spare but Campbell won’t need anything from it.

Of course, Campbell’s revanchist and increasingly unpopular populism will not come close to getting him elected, but it would be enough to get him into a runoff as a sacrificial lamb to a Republican, almost certainly Dardenne or Villere. Thus, Dardenne doesn’t want to get squeezed out by Villere, which Francis almost achieved against him in 2006. As such, Dardenne has gone on an impressive fund-raising campaign which at present leaves him with more money available for deployment than all his other announced challengers combined.

So, not only are the stakes higher because of possible future promotion, but also with no other statewide office on the ballot this fall this one ought actually ought to stir a pulse. The winner here gets an enormous leg up for a four-year term next fall, thereby meaning we should expect an atypically-exciting campaign for this otherwise next-to-useless, dull office.


Mr. Harris Plutocrat said...

Just what the U.S. needs, the most anti-science politician in the country. A corrupt Louisiana politician can only do so much damage when cordoned off in Louisiana. But put him in the White House and God help us all. Whatever terrible fate the country would have at that point would most certainly carry the banner of "freedom."

Of course, we can count on Jeff Sadow to be furtively waving pom-poms for "Palin/Jindal 2012." But only because Wallace/LeMay isn't on the ballot.

Anonymous said...

Plutocrat is a vile human being.