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Louisiana GOP Starting to Stand Up for Its Principles

This isn’t your 20th century Louisiana Republican Party. The state’s GOP recently has gone on the offensive, taking on Democrats Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Shreveport mayor Keith Hightower through the pen of its chairman Roger Villere, Jr.. He lambasted Blanco for having let a year lapse without an appointment of an inspector general, accusing her deliberately stalling (even the Legislature tried more quickly to hire a legislative auditor, even if they did hire one of their own), and ripped into Hightower (and the Democrats on the City Council, to some extent) for pushing the ill-advised convention center hotel project at the expense of other more important city needs.

Five years ago, such muscle would have been unexpected, if not unimaginable, out of the state party. Former Gov. Mike Foster, whose Republican heritage began the day he filed to run for Governor in his 65th year, did what he could to emasculate principled conservatism out of the party. He backed a slate of candidates in the 1999 elections for the party’s state central committee, enough of whom won so he could put leaders pliant to him in office, where they remained silent while he let gambling grow, supported tax raises and some Democrats for office, and massively increase state spending (although he did follow a conservative agenda in other ways).

For a Republican party in a state where a dwindling, but significant number of conservatives calling themselves Democrats still existed, a move to center constituted the worst possible strategy. In some ways it echoed the old, get-along-go-along strategy that many party elites who were socialized into the milieu of the GOP being the minority party had practiced, who conservatism rested more on their desire to keep their economic and social standing intact than on a principled base.

It showed in election results, where a party that displayed its conservative zeal more often could have swung in their columns the relatively few votes Suzanne Haik Terrell and Bobby Jindal needed to win the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, respectively, as well as missing chances to win the Attorney General and Insurance Commissioner spots. It showed in the state legislature, where the GOP never has asserted itself even as it continues to grow stronger in the body and even had Republican state Sen. John Hainkel, former candidate for governor and Senate President, offer to switch parties (again!) to keep his leadership post.

But perhaps this is changing as well; the new attitude may be infectious. State Sen. Jay Dardenne has told fellow lawmakers that he will push for a bill that wipes out entirely the ability of legislators to receive free sporting tickets from lobbyists. Not only is he crossing up Democrats on this, he’s challenging another of the older guard Republicans in the Legislature, Charles Lancaster who said he thinks the current $100 limit ought to be increased.

It’s the attitude of party officials like Villere and of elected officials like Dardenne that will drive the GOP to majority status in the state. They correctly grasp the growing discontent of the public with politics as usual, of public officials that place too much emphasis of seeking power and prestige for themselves and their allies. More of a focus on the people’s needs and desires they pursue but, more importantly, they are willing to contrast themselves and this attitude and to challenge Democrats when the latter are on the wrong side of an issue. It is a most welcome change.

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