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Treasurer's choice illustrates Democrats' atrophy

So, it’s come to this: in a treasurer’s field containing one of their own, Louisiana Democrats may vote for a Republican because he seems to them least likely to use that office as a springboard for something more exalted.

That seems like the plan for at least some high-profile New Orleans elected Democrats who back state Sen. Neil Riser in the race to fill out the term of now-Sen. John Kennedy. The Columbia Republican faces off against, among others, fellow GOP former state Rep. John Schroder and past Secretary of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Secretary as well as former Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis. Also, he competes against a Libertarian, another Republican, and a Democrat.

But the Democrat, Derrick Edwards, has failed to gain the backing of the state party and any of its influential elected officials, even though polling puts him in a runoff. He would seem to have potential: for a party that takes great store in finding “victims” supposedly needing redress for the oppression/discrimination they face, Edwards ticks off the two boxes of racial minority and disability. Additionally, he has an inspirational story of suffering quadriplegia yet persevering to earn advanced college degrees, most recently law in which he currently practices.

Party executives tap dance around why they reserve judgment. First they said he should settle up a late campaign finance report – even though campaign finance irregularities don’t seem to bother at least one top party official when it comes to his own account – and with that resolved, now they make vague excuses about how he needs better organization.

However, they refuse to admit that they will not go to even the modest lengths to help Edwards because he strays off the liberal reservation, as he contends the state needs less, not more, government. More dishearteningly, they continue a pattern of not endorsing black candidates in statewide contests, which happens once in a blue moon, even when a competitive one emerges. (Local party organizations have a better track record in this regard; the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee has endorsed Edwards.)

Perhaps this pattern occurs because their black endorsees always lose – or worse. In fact, concerning one of the last ones levied, in 2015 for Geri Broussard Baloney for attorney general, that backfired when, not being in the runoff, she endorsed GOP now-Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry over the incumbent former Democrat. (Former Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden was another such endorsement in 2015; prior to those, the last occurred way back in 1999 with a nod to former Rep. Bill Jefferson for governor, who Edwards may exceed in vote proportion in November.)

So, why have some elected Democrats gravitated towards Riser? They claim he’s a standup guy and, get this, they don’t see he aspiring to higher office. Riser, of course, made a strong bid for the U.S. House in 2014, which seems to indicate he hasn’t completely given up on the idea of upward mobility.

By contrast, they don’t seem as enthused about Schroder, who made a habit of complaining about outsized Louisiana government although the few antidotes to that he offered were long on symbolism and short on substance. They appear to think he would use the treasurer’s bully pulpit to snipe at Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (no relation to Derrick) policy agenda that keeps government inflated. Ironically, resigning from the House to campaign full-time for treasurer may have hurt Schroder in this regard: Democrats might have wanted to get him out of the Legislature where he could filibuster and vote against Edwards’ positions by hoping to kick him upstairs, but he removed that bit of leverage by leaving his post early.

Nor do Democrat leaders find Davis that appealing. In years past, many such officials suffered from Jindal Derangement Syndrome, typified by instant and unthinking negative reaction to anything about former GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal in blaming him for all the world’s ills, which could rub off on Davis. But perhaps her working for Democrat New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu when he served as lieutenant governor could counterbalance that.

If so, her wholehearted support for GOP Pres. Donald Trump’s outsider agenda seems to have soured those Democrats. As distortive as Jindal Derangement Syndrome became to their politics, now they have caught the even more virulent Trump Derangement Syndrome, a malady so intense that it makes Democrats turn on their own leaders seen as trying to cooperate with Trump. Her associating herself with Trump’s policy preferences makes her a pariah to partisan Democrats.

Of course, had another Democrat of more serious background run, the public relations hit that state Democrats have taken over their reluctance to endorse a black person with disability leading in the polls would not have happened. As one party leader delicately put it, with little formal authority in the treasurer’s office, for even ambitious politicians it may not seem worth it to run a statewide campaign. Left unsaid was such low odds of winning makes an attempt seem even more onerous, even though the payoff may be high with two of the last three occupants ascending to the U.S. Senate.

So discouraging, in fact, that major Democrats initially had thought to back state Rep. Julie Stokes, but she had to pass when she discovered health difficulties coming her way. Which only compounds the absolute atrophy the Louisiana Democratic Party suffers, summed up by this race: it has to choose one of the most conservative Republican state senators as its also-ran shadow candidate because the GOP one it really wanted as shadow candidate didn’t run and no acceptable or credible Democrat sees enough partisan support available to want to make a serious attempt. In terms of policy influence, this is how a party withers away into irrelevance.

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