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Maness at crossroads: contributor or joke?

Has Louisiana seen the last of now-perennial candidate Republican Rob Maness? His four years in public view would suggest not.

The third time was not the charm for Maness, who lost last week to Covington city council member Mark Wright, also of the GOP, for state representative House District 77. The special election came after its former occupant, incoming state Treasurer John Schroder, left his seat earlier to concentrate on his successful campaign.

Maness came onto the state’s radar when in 2013 he announced a run for U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu. This came despite the fact he had resided in the state for only about a year and that conservative Bill Cassidy, then in the U.S. House of Representatives, had signaled to the world he would take on Landrieu.

Drawing a respectable 14 percent of the vote in that contest but thereby failing to make the runoff where Cassidy would vanquish Landrieu, two years later he announced for the open seat of the retiring former Sen. David Vitter. Then, he slipped to four percent of the vote in battling other conservative and experienced officeholders and, only months after that, dove into the field to replace Schroder. He lost that contest despite having an advantage in name recognition from two statewide tries and outspending his opposition.

Why Maness keeps losing has remained the same since the beginning, reaffirmed after each election: he acts like the retired guy who sits at the bar who has all the answers on everything political and eventually, because he’s bored with retirement and likes the idea of self-publicity, talks himself into running for a job near the top. Since then, his races have featured decreasing ambition and increasing desperation.

In a letter criticizing a negative column about him by my Advocate colleague Stephanie Grace, Maness argues he runs for office because he wants to serve the public. But, if so, he chose exactly the backwards way to do it. You just don’t parachute out of the sky into St. Tammany Parish and announce yourself as the savior of self-governance and conservatism in Louisiana as the prima facie reason and only real qualification to win high office.

Instead, you start small and on the ground by helping other committed conservatives win office. You take time to build up where you live a track record of success either through career achievements or in politics, whether lower elective offices or appointed service in government. In the process, you meet and interact with people who sense you can see into fruition the right kinds of policy in government. With that critical mass and proven record of service, then you offer your talents to an electorate whose politically-tuned members see you as an electable candidate with the potential to implement the correct agenda.

Maness went in reverse. After noting that his endless assertions that he was the only real conservative and political outsider running for Senate did not make it so in the minds of most of the state’s center-right electorate, he took initial steps to build a solid base. He successfully ran for the Parish Executive Committee and started a political action committee with designs on electing conservatives.

This represented legitimate service to the community and, if Maness continued in this vein, could continue to have a lasting impact for years to come. Instead, much like Maness’ campaigns came off as, the PAC seems to have acted only as a vanity project, garnering few donations and making splashy announcements endorsing a few candidates mostly at the state and local level (despite its registration as a federal PAC) but offering them little else.

That activity largely ceased when the House race started, and Maness went into his old mode of implying it was the obligation of genuine conservatives to vote for him, for anything else sold out to the left and political establishment (missing the irony that three races in four years made him an established politician). Tellingly as an indicator of how well he inspired political activists and the larger party out in the electorate to support him, Wright got the endorsement of the very PEC on which Maness sits.

Last Saturday’s election results confirmed it, and it remains to be seen whether Maness will fall back upon his familiar excuse-making, full of conspiracies that shows bad faith of anybody who opposes his candidacies, to explain it away. It appears difficult for him to accept he loses contests because of himself: people will support someone who has a track record of doing the unheralded, unglamorous work in the world of policy-making and electoral politics and not those who seem to seek attention in the quest to fill a void in one’s life. 

Still, Maness may make more attempts. His state senator, Jack Donahue, faces term limits or perhaps another step down to something like the parish council could entice Maness to put himself out there again. At that decision point, he will demonstrate whether he finally has learned the best way to serve does not have to include electoral office in the near future or if he seems sacred and bound to become a recurring and bad joke.

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