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Angelle moves on from LA, leaving mixed legacy

It seems that former Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle has ended his long career in Louisiana politics, frustrated by a decision he made which reverberates statewide to this day.

Before assuming his position on the PSC, Republican Angelle had logged time in a number of positions in local and state government in a career progression pointing to the Governor’s Mansion. The time seemed best to take that step after his previous boss GOP former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s second term ended.

However, a significant obstacle presented itself in the form of Republican former Sen. David Vitter, who had wielded more influence over the state’s politics than any other politician over the previous decade. Throughout his career having articulated almost entirely undiluted conservatism with a dash anti-big-government populism, Vitter would present a formidable obstacle.

Yet Vitter entered the contest after 11 years in Senate because he had hit the ceiling on his national aspirations through a self-inflicted wound, a “serious sin” believed to concern prostitution. His revelation of that a decade ago had served as hardly a speedbump to his Senate reelection in 2010, and thus it appeared he had inoculated himself from the deleterious effect of that.

But those challenging Vitter figured the only way any of them had to win involved having to tear down his character, using the revelation as the cudgel. That Democrat then-state Rep., now Gov., John Bel Edwards would adopt his strategy was expected; that Angelle joined in, breaking the 11th Commandment, was disappointing.

By attacking a fellow conservative, Angelle hoped to dislodge support Vitter had cemented through two statewide elections and hope that they drifted into his column, enough to put in a runoff with the sole meaningful Democrat Edwards. That failed but in the process so damaged Vitter’s chances that Edwards won, aided by Angelle’s refusal to endorse the senator. Thus, Angelle’s scorched-earth campaign prevented the election of a conservative because, in his mind, it would be the wrong conservative: not him.

Over the next year, as Edwards began pulling policy sharply leftward, many conservatives in the state, and more specifically in the Third Congressional District, did not forget how Angelle’s approach inflicted the Edwards Administration onto the state. So, when Angelle decided to pursue that seat in the House of Representatives, many district Republicans were not in a forgiving mood.

Worse for Angelle, the consummate political insider, the 2016 election cycle proved quite unkind for established politicians, and in the district emerged a potent outsider candidate, former law enforcement official Clay Higgins. Angelle, despite outspending the field dramatically, barely led Higgins into the runoff and then suffered ignominious defeat thereafter, in large part because Republicans disproportionately shifted into Higgins’ camp, likely at least in part over Angelle’s behavior during the governor’s race.

This demonstrated existence of a cap stifling any further advancement of Angelle in the state’s political sphere. The stunning defeat would dampen any hope he had of challenging Edwards in 2019 and no other office equivalent, much less more exalted, to his PSC gig seemed attainable on the horizon.

Thus, it made sense for him to leave the state to serve in a higher-level Pres. Donald Trump Administration position in his area of expertise. There will be no going back, as this exile outside the electoral floodlights even for just a few years will keep him enough out of sight and out of mind. 

He leaves a mixed legacy, his long service weighed down by his prominent role creating conditions to retard policy progress in the state for the past 18 months and perhaps 30 more after, because of the needs of his ambition and his choice in how to try to fulfill that. As such, it was time for him to go.

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