What haunts Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and tells us something about his candidacy and the place of ideas in his governing style is not so much present endorsements for his office, but those endorsers from his initial run.
Last year, Dardenne went after the office upon the resignation of its former holder. In the general election that serves as a primary election under Louisiana’s blanket primary law, he made the runoff against liberal Democrat Caroline Fayard, defeating in the process previous office candidate entertainer and Republican Sammy Kershaw. With only a 28-24 percentage lead over her, and with Kershaw getting 19 percent, no great groundswell of support existed for Dardenne.
Then, his main problem was his moderate conservative Senate voting record (about 58 according to the Louisiana Legislature Log’s ideology/reform voting index for 2004-06, right in line with the Senate GOP average of the time) was distrusted by conservatives.
Meanwhile, Fayard, who had held no political office and had no record, attempted to hold herself out as a conservative despite other evidence contradicting that. To the Dardenne campaign, it needed some kind of validation of his candidacy for conservatives, with the strategy chosen to accomplish this of endorsements.
One came from Plaquemines Parish Pres. Billy Nungesser. According to the Dardenne campaign, the day before and of the election a phone call went out paid for by the campaign with Nungesser’s endorsement. This followed by almost a month an endorsement by Kershaw only a few days after his ouster. Both men were considered spokesmen for conservative issue preferences. Dardenne won comfortably.
A little over six months later, Nungesser announced he would challenge Dardenne, expressing disappointment in Dardenne’s performance, and almost immediately the Dardenne campaign posted information about the previous endorsement and tried to claim, using a rather selective presentation, that Nungesser’s source of his disgruntlement was over money he thought Plaquemines Parish should have received from Dardenne’s office. As a result, the campaign said Nungesser “flip flopped” and his “lies keep coming.”
Then, last week Kershaw declared his endorsement for Nungesser, also citing disappointment over Dardenne’s record. In response, the Dardenne campaign claimed Kershaw did so over disgruntlement that Dardenne would not give him a job and this demonstrated Dardenne’s credentials in shrinking the size of government. Kershaw, on the Moon Griffon radio talk show, retorted he never asked for a job and in fact Dardenne had offered him an appointment on a commission, which he turned down.
In both instances, Dardenne’s campaign replied to the bad news by trying to emphasize their man’s reform credentials, and casting aspersions on the others. While clever in approach, especially concerning the he-said/he-said Kershaw story upon further reflection the credibility of the assertion begins to falter.
Kershaw, after all, is not running for anything, so what would he gain by fabrication? Nor would it seem Kershaw, who still has a musical career, would be interested at all in any state job other than the one he competed for at the ballot box twice. His story seems more convincing, implying that perhaps from Dardenne the “lies keep coming.”
Which then impugns the credibility and character of Dardenne, which all along has been where conservatives have faulted Dardenne. They have argued that conservatism of Dardenne has been that of convenience, bringing up the easy way in which he had argued and voted for tax increases in the past decades. In going whichever way the wind blows to advance his political career, Dardenne makes himself too unreliable to stay fast to conservative principles, even if they comprise his natural preference, which worries conservatives and make them cast about for an alternative such as Nungesser.
His and Kershaw’s messages – that Dardenne didn’t act the way they thought he should once in office – echo that theme of lack of credibility as a conservative. Then, Dardenne’s responses that appear contrived appear to reinforce that even more. Which is why Dardenne faces a tough reelection campaign, the conduct of which raises conservatives’ level of distrust of him even more, dimming his political future in a state whose electorate increasingly veers to conservatism.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 12:25