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GOP statewide winner good bet to win 2015 governorship

As qualifying for state office begins, and since no major Democrats appear to be willing to run for any of the statewide kinds, given the kinds of outcomes that can come from the contests for the junior offices, we can see the jockeying begin among these Republicans appealing to the conservative base to become to successor to Gov. Bobby Jindal four years hence.

However, were any of Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Plaquemines Pres. Billy Nungesser, Sec. of State Tom Schedler, House Speaker Jim Tucker, Atty. Gen. Buddy Caldwell, Treasurer John Kennedy, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, and Sec. of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain to win the governorship in 2015, that would run against the field of play historically. With the exception of (then Lt. Gov.) Jared Sanders in 1908, (then Atty. Gen.) Ruffin Pleasant in 1916, and (then Lt. Gov.) Kathleen Blanco in 2003, no governor has come directly from one of the minor statewide offices since the 1898 Constitution that eliminated the last vestiges of Reconstruction. Congress, the Legislature, the state courts, and the Public Service Commission have provided more fertile grounds to launch a successful gubernatorial campaign than any single statewide office.

Nonetheless, especially in the term-limited era of the Legislature, ambitious politicians need a place to go and these offices allow for the continuation of political careers.
While only Tucker is coming directly from the Legislature, Dardenne, Schedler, Tucker, and Donelon served at least three terms in their legislative spots, and Strain served two terms and would have faced term limits had he run and won that House seat again instead of winning his current job in 2007. Thus, despite the poor record these offices have in immediately getting somebody into the Governor’s Mansion, more than ever they are filled with politicians particularly keen on advancement, a necessary prerequisite for getting into the top job.

Three of them seem unlikely candidates to replace Jindal. Other than attorney general positions in judicial districts and for the state, Caldwell has shown no other political ambitions, and, while he did make a run for U.S. Senate in 1998, Donelon seems to have settled in at the Department of Insurance. If Schedler wins reelection, neither does he seem that driven to get to the top spot, probably acting more in a supporting role to the guy who gave him a job after he faced term limitation that allowed him to ascend to his current position, Dardenne before he successfully captured the lieutenant governorship in a special election last year.

By contrast, ambition burns so brightly in two others it blinds. Dardenne clearly has been positioning himself for bigger things than the two offices in state government that have the least policy-making potential; it might be the U.S. Senate in 2014, but, if not that, then likely the office on the fourth floor of the Capitol in 2015. Ever since his failed Senate bid in 2008, Kennedy has made many public pronouncements more likely to come from a governor than treasurer, so a space alien hovering above the skyscraper by the lake could be pardoned for thinking Kennedy actually had his office there and resided in the mansion down the street. Unless they find other offices that suit them and win them, expect these two definitely to make the run.

Less certain, for different reasons, are the remainder of contestants. Were Tucker to defeat Schedler, it seems unlikely that office would satisfy him for long, but perhaps through 2019 and beyond as Tucker must know the more years he can put between behavior conservatives might question in his last term in the House and a run for a significant policy-making job like governor, the more likely he would succeed when he makes the leap. Nungesser is a relatively recent entrant into the political arena but by winning this time, he may feel momentum continues on his side, and would have effectively eliminated Dardenne as a competitor – which in turn might encourage Tucker.

Most intriguing is the position of Strain. More than any incumbent officeholder, perhaps even including Jindal, he has governed as a conservative. Taking over from former Comm. Bob Odom who had bloated his bureaucracy far beyond necessary functions, Strain aggressively reduced the size of the department and tried to extricate it from unwise past commitments, ably managing the process. Among all the others, he can run on a record most likely to appeal to conservatives, given Dardenne’s past friendliness to tax increases, Kennedy’s liberal positions taken when running for the Senate in 2004, and Tucker’s last term actions. Should Schedler have any progressive ambition, Strain also tops him on conservative/reform credentials, as his last term’s Louisiana Legislature Log’s voting index score was just under 70 (where 100 denotes the maximum conservative/reform score) while Schedler’s was closer to 60. Perhaps only Nungesser could try to match Strain’s sheet as a conservative from his parish presidency, but would have to do it after four years of serving in the most policy-devoid job in state government with little opportunity to demonstrate conservative governance as has Strain.

Whoever can corral the majority of the conservative vote, the biggest bloc in the state, is the favorite to win in future years. It’s likely one of those that can do it in 2015 for governor will do it in 2011 for a less exalted statewide office.

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