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Breaux candidacy possible crippling Democrat mistake

With Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s pass on running for reelection, a number of observers both in and out of elective office seem fixated that lobbyist John Breaux, a former Democrat senator from Louisiana, will change residency from Maryland and move it back to Louisiana. Breaux himself has encouraged such speculation by asking for an attorney general’s opinion on his citizenship status in the state. (That office says Breaux has not and legally cannot.) A review of both legal facts and political realities shows that Breaux and any Democrats supportive of this move are making a tremendous mistake that could cripple the state party for years to come.

Louisiana State University Dale Bennett Professor of Law John S, Baker, Jr. has argued convincingly that Breaux could not meet the Louisiana Constitution’s citizenship requirement of five years. As such, given that a challenge to his candidacy would occur days after his filing, even an expedited court hearing probably would not have the case heard prior to the middle of September. Appeals then would be filed regardless of the outcome and no doubt eventually would make its way to the Louisiana Supreme Court which, again even expedited, might rule barely three weeks before the Oct. 20 election at the earliest. And if the judiciary were to follow well-established case law, as Baker observes, Breaux has no real chance of successfully fending off the challenge.

Nor can the process begin any quicker. An attorney general’s opinion is just that and has no impact on a court’s decision. Neither can any challenge to the Constitution on this part be made in state court until there is party to be challenged, i.e. Breaux filing. Even a federal challenge, Baker notes, would be highly unlikely to work and would push the process past the election date.

Those are the legal realities, which are daunting enough. But the political impact of going through all of this will cripple a Breaux candidacy and will tarnish the reputation of state Democrats for trying to defend it, to the point that Breaux would be a significantly weakened candidate who would drag other Democrats down with him.

Understand that Breaux is the poster child for the good-old-boy network and politics as usual in the state (plus his longtime association with former governor Prisoner 03128-095). The reputation these labels have with a growing proportion of state voters is that these kinds of politicians are in it for themselves and their friends first, leaving the state ranked at the bottom of almost all significant quality of life indicators in the U.S. Better than almost all others Breaux has managed to metamorphisize away from these labels, but the events surrounding his candidacy will reverse all of that.

Already the state’s voters have been sensitized to the issue by the attempted chamber-jumping of state legislators to avoid the modified three-term limit (three consecutive terms maximum for a particular chamber seat, meaning term-limited members of one house can run for the other). Watching Breaux bend over backward in the weeks immediately prior to the election, contorting the law to extremes to make a case he qualifies to run for the office, will only fuel people’s cynicism about his motives and squarely associate him as the kind of politician that is trying to get into to office despite the letter and the spirit of the law to take advantage of the job, rather than to serve the state.

And with major Republican candidates Rep. Bobby Jindal and state Sen. Walter Boasso with a likely excess of $10 million to use during the campaign, reminders about how Breaux, like so many Louisiana politicians of the past, is trying to twist the law for political reasons will keep the focus squarely on Breaux as a corrupt politician. This doesn’t even include the pounding he would receive for having fled the state the second he was out of the Senate and how he didn’t lift a finger to help the state after the hurricane disasters (for example, picture a Boasso commercial showing the state senator as he tried to rescue people in the days after Hurricane Katrina, while the ex-senator is shown living the high life in and around his East Coast mansion and in fancy Washington restaurants).

In short, Breaux will be depicted in a saturation of the media as an opportunistic carpetbagger who doesn’t really care about the state engaged in shady legal maneuvering to get a prize that he will use to feed his million-dollar spending habits acquired as a high-paid lobbyist and to reward shady political allies and operatives. This to a state continuing to drift away from the Democrats who doesn’t really know Breaux or remember him, which hasn’t experienced a Breaux campaign in nine years, nor a serious one in 21 years, to try to convince them he does not comport to this image. It is folly to think that Breaux would not be an underdog candidate in this environment.

But let’s say for whatever reason Breaux and Democrats still think he could win despite all of this. And let’s also say that, despite tremendous legal evidence otherwise (maybe because they think they can manipulate the state judiciary?), they think there’s even a good chance a Breaux candidacy would be allowed to legally happen. The fact is it is a tremendous, ill-advised gamble on which everything could be lost.

It’s bad enough that Breaux as the Democrat standard bearer could become seen as the face of a tired, stuck-in-the-past, solution-less, perhaps even dishonest party, lose the election and drag down a lot of other Democrats with him, but the chance, even if (in their minds) it is not a large chance that he could be disqualified should alert any thinking political strategist that it is a huge risk with poor payoff. Simply, going with Breaux would be putting all their eggs in one basket that could completely scrambled weeks, or even days, before the election itself.

The whole point of Blanco removing herself from the contest was to enable Democrats to unite around a particular stronger candidate. But if that candidate himself has a non-trivial chance that he would not qualify, it is a stupid bet to go in this direction. If not allowed to run, Democrats would have no chance to find a “replacement” and the only other Democrat of consequence running, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, is not the answer to the Jindal-Boasso juggernaut (indeed, Campbell would gleefully pile on against Breaux). And you can’t have a “backup” simultaneously running with Breaux, because this defeats the purpose as it would split the Democrat vote (something party insiders already worry about with Campbell).

But even if the challenge to Breaux is unsuccessful, that outcome itself dooms a Breaux candidacy. By having a judiciary warp the Constitution and law to find a way to allow Breaux to run would be the perfect demonstration of why Breaux should not be allowed to win: a corrupt system allowing in one of its own to save itself. His opponents would argue voting against Breaux would be the perfect way to demonstrate protest against this regime. So either Breaux stays on the ballot in an untenable situation, or he’s off and Democrats are left with no candidate that could compete against Jindal and Boasso.

Perhaps Breaux can be excused if he is deluded enough to think he can get elected governor in this environment. State Democrats cannot be and have lost touch with reality if they think there are not other candidates who would stand a better chance against two strong Republican foes, given the risks brought to the party by a Breaux candidacy.

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