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While Cao’s defeat was expected, the size by which he lost to state Rep. Cedric Richmond was not, despite spending huge sums to hold onto his seat in an uphill battle. Demographics worked heavily against Cao, who two years ago found the right combination of circumstances to be elected as a Republican in a majority black and Democrat district.
But Cao’s conduct in office and reputation for honesty and weighing ethics heavily in his decisions was the former seminarian’s strong suit, and he may have found the office that would emphasize most those qualities as he left the door open for a run for Louisiana Secretary of State, to be occupied on an interim basis by former state Sen. Tom Schedler when his boss Jay Dardenne becomes lieutenant governor next week. A significant portion of the job deals with elections and their integrity, and integrity is Cao’s strong suit.
Cao’s leaving the door open for this possibility should not have been received well by state Rep. Walker Hines, who last week announced a party switch to the GOP and possible pursuit of the same job. He has established a centrist voting record largely made that way by enthusiastic reform efforts. Schedler, who has registered his intention for the job and is anticipated to be supported by many establishment Republican activists, would be expected to be backed by long-standing conservative forces so Hines’ strategy may have been to come in front the center, stressing his reform credentials.
However, were Cao to enter the contest not only could he stress those same credentials, but his reputation for integrity, greater name recognition, and congressional experience would trump Hines’ qualities. He also has demonstrated the great fundraising prowess necessary to run successfully statewide while Hines has not (although Cao cannot use any leftover funds from his federal campaign). This may make any such campaign by Hines stillborn from the start.
In addition, Cao’s defeat may have been the final straw to end, at least for now, the elective career of state Rep. Juan LaFonta, whom Richmond convincingly defeated in the Democrat primary. LaFonta, first elected in a special contest five years ago, proclaimed that he would not run for reelection, in essence arguing the job wasn’t any fun any more if it ever had been.
LaFonta called the atmosphere of the Legislature “vindictive,” said over the past few years (meaning about all the time he was in it) it frustrated him, and, in particular, Gov. Bobby Jindal was really spoiling the party by threatening to under the penalty of their withdrawal or actually vetoing LaFonta’s slush fund line item appropriations. Confirming that he had no stomach to fight for and/or no confidence in his own leadership qualities to pursue his agenda, he remarked, “To beat Bobby Jindal it takes ... the people of this state to really wake up and put their foot down. To be vocal and active and organized and I just have not seen that.”
LaFonta insists he had made up his mind on this before Richmond’s shellacking of him. Translation: LaFonta was putting up with his fruitless legislative position only so long as it took him to use it to ascend to higher office. But now that Richmond has got it and the district’s demographics and history (of long tenures once elected) on his side, he doesn’t want to play any more and is going to go home.
Given a voting record favoring higher taxes, more spending, bigger government, and greater regulation by it, the citizenry should congratulate LaFonta on his exit from elective office, if not ask, since he seems set on this, for his immediate resignation.
The proclamation by grizzled Legislature veteran state Sen. John Alario that he was almost certain to change registration before the year’s end seems even more expedient than the recent declaration by state Rep. Walker Hines that he was doing the same now. At least in Hines’ case his three-year career voting record seemed more amenable to a GOP affiliation all along, so the expediency comes from his having had to gain his election in a fairly Democrat-heavy, majority-black district. Having secured that election as a Democrat, his present defection is a signal to the GOP to help him out in redistricting and may help his chances in case he makes a run for Secretary of State next year.
But Alario’s move would come for almost the opposite reason. Until recently, he never has shown much affinity for a conservative/reform agenda, not the least because he served as House Speaker and as a committee leader in periods where the governors and Legislatures were comfortable with tax increases and big spending. His voting record, as by the Louisiana Legislature Log’s index, over the past seven years averaged about 49, where 100 is the maximum support in voting for conservative or reform positions on legislation.
However, this centrist score is skewed by his activities since entering the Senate after being term-limited in the House at the end of 2007. His last term there he averaged under 35, barely above the Democrat average of about 32 and well under the House overall average of around 46. Yet he seemed a changed man in the Senate, averaging about 67 in those three years with a stunning 90 in 2010.
It’s not that his district is pushing him in this direction; although it has been trending more conservatively, its large majority of Democrats and one-quarter black minority does not mean he could not get reelected as a Democrat. Unlike Hines’ case, redistricting really does not threaten dismembering his district, packing it with enough blacks to invite a challenge from a black Democrat, or with more Republicans to make that party able to knock him off: the Louisiana Family Forum plan, for example, adds some blacks but leaves it clearly with a white Democrat majority.
Rather, Alario, as he has done his entire career, is going whichever way the wind blows. When populist Democrats and/or Republicans-in-name-only called the shots in the Governor’s Mansion and Capitol, he was out in front of that as one of the biggest yes-men and facilitators of their tax-and-spend, grow government agenda. Times are different now, with conservative Republicans having captured the fourth floor, tightening their grip on the House, and may well gain a Senate majority for the first time since Reconstruction in the Senate by this time next year.
Alario acts however he needs to try to retain influence with whichever faction wields power. While he mouths the expected “Democrats have left me” line to explain it, any switch that does occur must be evaluated in light of this fact.