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Powell departure adds uncertainty to state, U.S. races

Maybe we should have seen it coming when, in the aftermath of Rep. Jim McCrery’s announcement that he would not run for reelection, that buzz did not immediately form around state Rep. Mike Powell to run for the Republican nomination for that seat. Perhaps Powell himself cautioned supporters not to endorse him enthusiastically for the spot, as might be gathered by his unexpected resignation from the Louisiana House of Representatives.

Three reasons present themselves as to why Powell might do this in spite of his having as secure a seat as any in the House, after having just been reelected with no opposition this fall. One could be some lingering ethics problem, as some asserted rather unconvincingly with little proof months ago – to date, the state’s Ethics Board has not seen fit to see anything wrong with Powell’s activities. A second would be that Powell was preparing to run for the open federal seat, but that makes no sense since Powell would not have to give up his state seat to run for it. However, given a choice between time spent on legislative duties and campaigning for the U.S. position, Powell could go for the latter but it would not really solve the dilemma of making time for his family even if he could get a great full-time salary out of it – just ask McCrery who is opting not to run because it’s the family time that matters to him.

In the final analysis, it does all comes down to family with Powell. He has seven children with most hitting their teen years now or shortly, and it is a lot of mouths to feed and attention to be given. You don’t get paid as a full-time employee serving in the legislature (base salary is $1,400 a month) but, perhaps worse, you spend a lot of time in Baton Rouge and even at home on legislative business that also detracts from family life. As unfortunate as it might be that Powell is giving up public service, it’s to his credit that he puts first what really is important.

Giving up his current spot for family certainly also means he will not contend for the 4th District job, and makes that a much more wide-open contest. If Republicans cannot entice Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator to run, not only does it leave an uncertain Republican nominee, it strengthens the position of the only Democrat who has a shot at taking the seat, former Shreveport mayor Keith Hightower as the top two Republican candidates for it will be out. The national party likely is to involve itself more heavily in the process now to get the best possible candidate.

Locally, two names immediately leap to mind to replace Powell in a district that heavily favors Republicans. The favorite would be current Shreveport City Council member Michael Long, but he may be hesitant to run precisely for the same reasons of family that sidelined both McCrery and Powell from their respective offices. Another contender would be two-time election loser, against Powell in 2003 and for the state Senate seat incorporating the district months ago, Barrow Peacock. His problem is that he spent over $300,000 in his recent losing effort, a good chunk of it his own funds, and many Republicans were annoyed that he refused to support the eventual winner of the state Senate seat B.L. “Buddy” Shaw, a conservative Republican of long standing, against recent GOP convert liberal state Rep. Billy Montgomery. If Long doesn’t run and Peacock does, look for a concerted GOP effort to find another candidate.

Regardless of what happens now, it must be noted that Powell’s departure is a blow to those who value good legislative service, and he will be missed.


Anonymous said...

When the public corruption section of the US Justice Dept. decides to indict, sometimes the word gets out and if you resign--as a private citizen your case will possibly be turned over to the locals. Then the local US attorney with more sparse resources than DC justice dept. can decide whether to pursue it or not.

I'm not saying anyone knows what the facts are, but when a louisiana politician under an ethics cloud resigns suddenly after having run for re-election a few months prior...

Where there is smoke, there is fire!!

I think Mr. Powell was a good representative, i agree with his policy positions. However, he should not get off too easily just because he was one of ours--wrong is wrong. I doubt that most of the issues behind this situation became public before the ethics board, the FBI doesn't share its files.

If the allegations were at all true that he was strong-arming covert payments for help in political races, then one has to look to 18 USC 371 which is a federal criminal statute often used against politicians in such circumstances.

Anonymous said...

I just hope Prator decides to NOT run. I am a loyal Republican, but under no circumstance will I be able to vote for him.

I hope the state party realizes there is not a lot of support for him outside of the law enforcement community. Sorry, but the sheriff doesn't have my confidence and he doesn't have the experience. Hopefully someone like a Jerry Jones will get into the race. Hopefully...

Anonymous said...

Dr. Sadow: As a true political scientist, don't you think the "new" closed primary system we will face in Sept. favors a virtual unknown candidate? With only about 100,000 registered Republicans in the 4th CD, a candidate can "win" the primary with 25,000 - 30,000 votes. Those votes can easily come from the most Republican parishes in the district -- Grant, Bossier, Webster, and Vernon. I would like to know your thoughts if you break down the numbers.

Jeff Sadow said...

No, it probably actually favors a more "established" candidate within the party. This is because a disproportionate share of the electorate of either party will come from activists who are familiar with the bigger names of the party in the district. With the blanket primary, parties and activists had little control over who advanced under a party label because of the influx of those not affiliated with the party into the process of making a "nomination" disguised within the actual general election itself. Especially the GOP now can limit its participants only to party affiliates, washing out non-Republicans and passing more control to party regulars.

Anonymous said...

In the current climate, it looks like Dems are crossing over a lot more than GOP. How will that affect the races in a closed primary, I wonder? A lot of N. LA crossover Dems might feel disenfranchised. Could either increase GOP registrations. Or would there be a backlash? Probably the former.

Or would it produce more moderate/conservative Dems coming out of the primary?

It may cost GOP a lot more to unseat an incumbent Dem in Congress. GOP may have to run 3 races while the incumbent can lay back until the general. Hard to see the Dems running a serious challenger to a Dem incumbent these days.

I haven't thought this through. Frankly, I don't have the knowledge or expertise to predict, nor the time to acquire it.