In the past couple of days, two prominent candidates for statewide office – one to defend himself, one to kickstart a flagging campaign – have taken actions regarding assertions of legality the undeniable impact of each will be felt politically.
Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal sent requests to television stations to halt airing of attack ads that claimed he denigrated people of certain religious beliefs on the basis of their false nature. (Note: I don’t have copies of the articles in question, but I recall reading some of these at the time they came out, and from what I remember there was nothing inflammatory about them at all; indeed, I was struck by their serious, thoughtful tone and was intrigued somebody in his mid-twenties could produce them.) This course of action emphasized the “no gifts” strategy Jindal has adopted when negative information of a distorted nature is disseminated by Democrats.
The producer of the ads, the state’s Democrat Party refused to backtrack from their airing in select markets, and major Democrat candidates for governor state Sen. Walter Boasso and Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell to their discredit did not repudiate the ads. (It’s telling, however, that while the Democrats have provided a website to amplify the ad, it does not reproduce the entire articles – probably because they fear doing so would show how wildly out of context are taken Jindal’s passages.)
By taking such strong action, Jindal wants avoid giving the impression that the charges had credence (which failing to do so in his 2003 run for the office may have contributed to his narrow defeat) and to emphasize the aspect that the are personal attacks that have nothing to do with the contest. (Democrats, of course, have an ulterior motive for doing this – they know they can’t stop Jindal this time, so these ads are an attempt to prevent downballot damage to other Democrats and to keep Jindal from becoming a national force in politics.) After this and a statement to the media, we should hear nothing more from him in order to refrain defining the issue in any way other than as a desperate attack without merit that the Jindal camp hopes will backfire on Democrats.
By contrast, litigation said forthcoming from Democrat Atty. Gen. Charles Foti will be designed to be dragged out as long as possible. Foti has indicated he will use the powers of his office to sue insurance companies who may have slighted homeowners on insurance receipts related to the hurricane disasters of 2005, knowing that the state would pick up the slack which would placate the claimants but unduly put the bite on taxpayers.
Foti, of course, has had a hard time of it with litigation recently. His much-(self-) publicized murder charges against medical personnel for actions taken during Hurricane Katrina got tossed by a grand jury, a maneuver by Foti that brought him almost universal condemnation from the medical community and cries from the public and one of the accused (leading to a suit) that Foti was using the powers of his office for political reasons. Distraction from that national embarrassment would assist in fending off in particular a vigorous challenge from Republican attorney Royal Alexander. He also seems to be having trouble with a case that has not subjected him to such scorn, allegations that nursing home owners failed to evacuate patients during Katrina.
That Foti’s plan seems more political than anything comes from its timing. These allegations against insurers came months ago; why didn’t Foti immediately start an investigation leading to charges then? Why now, two moths before elections and when other high-profile cases are casting negative light on him and his abilities?
In the end, the smear ads against Jindal are likely to run their brief course – but his protestations will have political importance that should help his campaign. By contrast, there’s no telling where Foti’s legal actions will go or whether they will have a positive impact on his campaign – but there’s no doubt, just as in the failed prosecution he initiated, about the political nature of them.
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