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23.9.10

Shreveport history possible, Fleming repeat probable

Qualifying for fall election contests brought some interesting races, which may produce historical events for Shreveport.

This space has reviewed the mayor’s contest and when the dust had settled nothing had changed about its dynamics. More than ever it is turning into a referendum on incumbent Cedric Glover and the question is whether controversial actions by Glover can blunt his reelection machinery and also the impulse locally for monoracial voting, particularly in the black community to vote for black candidates when matched against whites.

But history has a chance to be made regarding the City Council. Some of it takes the form of a rerun of it in District A that also distinguishes itself from most of the other contests in that it has no clear frontrunner. There, of its four candidates, current Commissioner Rose Wilson McCullough (the daughter of longtime fixture there Hersey Wilson, the first black elected to the then-Police Jury), former Caddo Parish Commissioner Michael Williams (protégé of the first black female elected to the then-Police Jury, Eddie Jones), and Dr. C.O. Simpkins (himself history, having been the first black candidate for a school board set in Louisiana in the twentieth century in 1952, a leading civil rights activist driven from town, then returning to make the mayoral runoff in 1990) match up among themselves, one of whom likely will win.

The other closely competitive race of these, however, is the one where new history may emerge. In District B, it looks to be a contest between attorney Sheva Sims and former Sen. Mary Landrieu operative Jeff Everson, both Democrats. The winner, given the dynamics of likely triumphs in the other races, will continue a Democrat majority on the Council, but if Sims wins, it also would create the first majority black Council.

District B almost a decade ago was designed to be a racial swing district. Barely having a registered white plurality in 2002, white Democrat term-limited incumbent Monty Walford narrowly won among a black Democrat and white Republican candidate, and was reelected in 2006 by only six votes over Sims in the by-then majority registered black plurality district. Now, an absolute majority of blacks registered in the district makes Sims the clear frontrunner.

Everson, who seems to be looking to duplicate current District E Councilman, now mayoral candidate, Bryan Wooley’s precocious win of four years past against more experienced politicians, has a harder task than Wooley then because of these numbers yet whose biggest ally to overcome them may be Sims herself. Her post-2006 quixotic political career most prominently includes her brief tenure as head of the now-defunct Shreveport YWCA board, during which she led to board to provoke a crisis with the city over program operations that led to the end of contracting with it that helped starve the organization into disbanding.

That event may make some think twice about supporting her, and Everson maybe the best alternative. Political unknown Deborah Allen is not expected to gain much traction, and Craig Lee has a reputation as a crank who interjects race and class into almost any political and social controversy imaginable.

Finally, the area’s race for Congress might turn interesting, where minister David Melville is the Democrat nominee. For years, Melville was well-connected in the community as an administrator with Shreveport’s First United Methodist Church (besides being politically-connected partly as a result of being married into the Roemer clan), but felt a calling to more actively serve his faith. Now a pastor, he continues the tradition of conservative Democrats vying for the Fourth District seat.

Republican incumbent Dr. John Fleming ever since he began what was then a longshot quest for the office in 2008 has been criticized by some for being too plainspoken. Fleming clearly recognizes the battle of ideas that is part of his job and is not shy in contrasting publicly and by his actions as a representative his conservatism with the liberal ethos that soon appears to be on its way out in the House after just four years.

But what Melville considers to be a weakness also serves as Fleming’s strength. With a perfect 100 score on the American Conservative Union’s 2009 voting scorecard, joining just a handful of members with that in the House, Fleming solidly is in line with a majority of voters in his district. Melville’s task of trying to convince the public that despite his label he’s conservative enough but who would appear kinder and gentler than Fleming in style is made more difficult by the toxic electoral environment in the district to national Democrats and that the Rev. Artis Cash, an even bigger crank on race and class than Lee, qualified to run for the general election and will take some black votes from the Democrat nominee. Fleming, with almost a half million dollars sitting idle (about seven times Melville’s stash) and the ability to lend himself more in a pinch, is a clear favorite for reelection.

22.9.10

Melancon, unable to handle truth, reverts to playbook

Increasingly, it’s difficult to take Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon seriously about anything he says as he experiences the death throes of his political life. Devoid of having winning issues on his side, his latest tack in his Republican Sen. David Vitter character assassination tour returns to an old theme he applies against political adversaries, calling the incumbent Vitter whose job he wishes to take hypocritical. Since it’s something Melancon typically does when he himself is open to that charge, let’s review where he’s practiced hypocrisy on the issues in the Senate campaign, from remarks given at the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

Vitter has not spoken to that organization and appears not likely to want to, and Melancon tried to echo that by calling Vitter a “high tea” sipper disconnected to the Louisiana working class. But he neglected to reveal that, between the two, Melancon has been far less accessible to the Louisiana public than has Vitter, as in the past two years Melancon has made a cottage industry of dodging constituents and concerned citizens inviting them to their rallies.

Melancon is a leader of the so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats who pose as believers of fiscal restraint in government. Instead, Melancon has shown little of that inclination, among other big spending votes having voted for the 2009 spending bill that was the greatest budget-buster in history, and over a year later with its pernicious effects reverberating throughout the economy he’s still a true believer, vowing history (which conveniently means not the past 18 months nor next seven weeks) will redeem his view. This ignorance remains despite the historical evidence both recently and in the past that show such programs do not work, as well as the academic evidence corroborating the invalidity of his statement.

But when it’s convenient – in his case, a chance to redistribute wealth – Melancon suddenly becomes in favor of fiscal restraint relative to increasing taxes on almost half of small business income earned, a preference even the Blue Dogs mostly disavow. Further, he supports this despite knowing – or because perhaps knowing it as his conservative political opponents control Louisiana government – it will cost the state of Louisiana as much as $40 million in reduced tax collections.

This would be consistent with his demonstrated partisanship, which he claimed he does not practice while arguing Vitter does excessively, and dishonesty, again claiming himself pure on this attribute compared to Vitter. Instead, Melancon regularly has made partisan overtures and not been above-board in his political dealings: the controversy over his attempt to subvert University of New Orleans procedures is a recent yet classic example of both.

This claimed agreeableness Melancon asserts makes him a more effective legislator than Vitter. Besides the fact that in-party legislators by definition are going to be much more of that, nevertheless Melancon has shown utter incompetence and inability on the issue of the devastating impact that the moratorium by the Pres. Barack Obama Administration on deepwater oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico has had on U.S. energy independence and the economies of the Gulf’s states.

Melancon claims he’s against it, but in reality attempted to impose a procedural one with no expiration on the exploration industry. And if he’s so much more influential than Vitter, why has he had no influence in curbing the existing moratorium? Or if so much more nonpartisan why has he not disavowed the crude attempt by the Obama Administration to downplay the real economic damage of the moratorium?

Finally, Melancon’s cognitive dissonance on his floundering in the contest approaches the clinical. Every independent poll, including the latest, shows his trailing badly. Rather, he deludes himself by thinking he’s “close” because the result of a vicious Senate Democratic Campaign Committee push poll has him down just 10 points.

Even as Melancon argues that this “amazing phenomenon” may dissipate because of the “truth,” the fact is Melancon can’t handle the truth of his situation. His career of saying he is one thing and then doing things inconsistent to that seems about up.

21.9.10

Law appropriate to prevent additional killing at clinics

If we are to have legalized killing in Louisiana, at least let’s hold down the collateral damage. But some aren’t even willing to curb their thirst for that.

Yesterday, the Center for Reproductive Rights announced it was suing to overturn the recently-enacted Act 490 that creates more stringent operating standards for abortion clinics. In an unrelated development, today a hearing will determine whether to lift an injunction against shutting down oxymoronically-named Hope Medical Group in Shreveport under the new law.

About three weeks after the law went into effect the clinic was cited for numerous violations including one that was an immediate threat to safety. The law allows the secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals to forgo the 30-day grace period allowed in it if the violations are of a serious nature, as well as provides for the injunctive relief sought by the clinic. The seriousness of the violations will be at issue in today’s proceedings.

20.9.10

Only conservative can derail Dardenne for lt gov

Regardless of the real motivations of candidates in the special election for Louisiana’s lieutenant governor’s job, as early voting has begun in what direction is it heading that might produce the state’s next governor after current Gov. Bobby Jindal leaves office?

As noted, Sec. of State Jay Dardenne seems assured of a place in what almost certainly will go to a runoff given the number of candidates and resources they are deploying. With substantial name recognition compared to the others, an organization that has run three statewide contests in four years, and excellent fundraising results, he remains the favorite in that potential future scenario.

Whether he can win may depend upon who his runoff opponent would be. Realistically, a Democrat cannot win against him. Republican Dardenne, whose politics in his legislative career have been closer to the center than the right, can fend off a challenge from the left if he were to face unvarnished liberals such as Democrats political activist Caroline Fayard or state Sen. Butch Gautreaux, since he would hold most conservative votes and pick up moderates. Interestingly, these candidates also hold the key to Dardenne’s chances even if neither becomes his runoff opponent.

Dardenne only is vulnerable against a conservative, of which three major Republican candidates can claim to be, former candidate and entertainer Sammy Kershaw, state party Chairman Roger Villere, and St. Tammany Parish Pres. Kevin Davis. If any of these candidates in a runoff against Dardenne could take advantage of an electoral environment that will energize conservative involvement and depress liberal participation, without a Democrat on the ballot there might roll off enough liberal voters to make up for some of the conservative votes Dardenne will get for one of these others to win.

But one must make the runoff which remains an open question. Not only are they battling among themselves over much the same pool of voters, but the major Democrats are starting to pour money into the contest so that, if the trio of GOP conservative hopefuls sufficiently divides the vote among themselves, could allow for one of the liberals to sneak on through. However, fortunately for these Republicans, Fayard and Gautreaux are doing a pretty job of splitting up their own base, as national political figures and Orleans-area Democrats have been helping Fayard while state political figures and organized labor have swung behind Gautreaux.

At this point, polls show that among these five that Kershaw has the best chance of advancing. Yet with a plurality of intended voters still undecided, any of the five could. Still, if those in the anybody-but-Dardenne camp had to make their best bet on stopping him, it appears that Kershaw is the best positioned. He consistently has run second in the polls not far behind Dardenne, has name recognition not just from his previous run but also his music career, and probably has the most potential monetary resources on hand to compete against Dardenne. He seems serious and thoughtful on the very limited range of issues relevant to the office, and if Louisiana can put a singer into the Governor’s Mansion, why not one in the second spot?

To get there, he must campaign sufficiently well not to let Villere or Davis run too close to him and hope that neither Fayard nor Gautreaux can consolidate the liberal vote, and hope that Dardenne (who will wish to take as many conservative votes from Republican candidates as possible in order to face a Democrat in the runoff) can’t pick off enough of his voters as well. If a GOP candidate can do this, it will be a contest in November. Otherwise, absent a major blunder on his part, Dardenne will coast to a win then and establish himself as the frontrunner to be the next governor after Jindal.

19.9.10

Few candidates want lt gov office for what it actually does

With a potential free pass into the Governor’s Mansion potentially in the offing, a number of politically ambition politicians are taking a stab at the special election for lieutenant governor – to the point that one wonders whether most really are interested in that job as anything but a way station.

Historically, that office has paid off poorly for politicians wanting to use it as a springboard to leverage into the governorship, with since the nineteenth century only former Gov. Kathleen Blanco proceeding immediately from that office elected to the other. But these perhaps are not ordinary times. As first articulated in this space and now becoming more accepted by the interested public, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s immediate political future outside of his present position likely would be as the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate, and that may mean leaving office a year after a presumably easy cruise to reelection next year.

Thus, whoever wins this special election would become the favorite to win the regular one next year, and then take over if Jindal is on the national ticket and, as is looking increasingly likely, that ticket wins the White House in 2012. Unless your name is Sammy Kershaw or Melanie McKnight.

Kershaw, a 2007 candidate who finished second and noted entertainer, and the minor candidate McKnight, Republicans both, say they have no ambition to be governor. Kershaw goes further and implies if having that office thrust upon him, he would stay in it just as long to appoint a successor then hand in a resignation in time to schedule the quickest special election possible. However, the Louisiana Constitution would not permit this; instead, with an unelected lieutenant governor the elected secretary of state would become governor which well could be, ironically enough, fellow Republican candidate Sec. of State Jay Dardenne. (Potentially, Kershaw could appoint himself acting lieutenant governor, then resign before confirmation, and then would have to run in another special election to keep the job.)

And reviewing the rhetoric coming out of the campaigns also makes it appear that this trio are the only candidates that really focus mainly, if not exclusively, on issues facing the actual responsibilities assigned to the office – culture, recreation, and tourism. While others speak as if they would rather be in charge of economic development, workforce matters, or of directing tax policy, these three seem to be the most genuinely interested in taking the office as it is, not what they seem to hope, if they won’t admit it, where it turns out to lead them.

This highlights the political acumen of Dardenne, known to be extremely progressively ambitious in politics. That and a well-tested campaign organization have got him on top of polling and he can be expected to make a runoff. Months ago, winning outright without a general election runoff seemed possible for Dardenne, but with some big money especially among Democrats rolling in now a runoff seems more likely, meaning the question is who will join him.

At present this seems unclear, but it might be a pleasant surprise if Louisiana voters chose for a runoff and also ultimately somebody who actually seems committed to the (very limited) job as is, rather than as a means to an unrelated end.