It’s official, Louisiana: We’re now in a campaign state of mind. That glorious time when every “Sixty,” “Six Toes” and “Slim” jonesing for your vote promises to make all your dreams come true … with a tax cut to boot.
Why buy the Brooklyn Bridge when we’re an election day away from a freebie over the Mississippi?
For many of y’all, I get it: Having your “Despacito” YouTube viewing experience delayed by another Ralph Abraham ad is about as pleasant as a kidney stone. But, c’mon, can’t Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee wait 10 seconds for a little Yankee Doodle democracy in action?
In a state known for its supersized political characters, we’ve got a governor’s race featuring three guys whose public personalities make CPA’s look like the life of the party. Aren’t we doing the anti-Jindal thing these days? Where in the name of a pulse is Coach O when you need him?
Speaking of excitement, Round 2 of legislative term limits dings in this year, meaning 31 House members and 16 state Senators must look elsewhere for work on the taxpayer dime.
Believe it or not, this stuff is actually important. Maybe you missed the memo, but Louisiana and Baton Rouge aren’t exactly Shangri-La. Poverty levels remain embarrassingly high, neither economy is great, roads and bridges are a disaster, and our very best public school districts are merely mediocre on a national scale. But, hey, we’ve got football, Mardi Gras and some of the world’s finest food … so life is good.
Despite the historic norm of our being last, or near-last, on all the lists of good stuff and first, or near-first, on the bad-stuff lists, don’t expect anything resembling substantive from those wanting to run our little banana republic.
Instead, sit back and prepare yourself for the reality show that will be 1) months of selective data massaging proving life here is simultaneously utopian and putrid, 2) political operatives and PACs pouring over the opposition’s every uttered word and action as if scouring the Zapruder film for that magic bullet faux pas, and 3) Trump-like rants from pro- and anti-Edwards forces knocking those “look how cute” back-to-school photos off your social media streams.
To wit, we know incumbent John Bel Edwards loves football and believes life in Louisiana is getting better every day; businessman Eddie Rispone has two co-pilots—God and Trump; and Abraham is apparently auditioning to replace Tom Cruise in Top Gun III.
It’s fun—and way entertaining—but none of us have clue one about what any of these fine gentlemen will actually do if elected. Yes, Abraham, in particular, is tossing out position papers and guest opinion pieces on a variety of serious subjects, but collectively calculating how it all gets done without bankrupting the state is harder than LSU finding a way to beat Alabama in football.
But to quote George S. Patton, “God help me, I do love it so.”
The governor’s race aside, here are the races worth following:
Commissioner of Insurance—This will be fun mainly because we get some true GOP on GOP crime, with both incumbent Jim Donelon and challenger Tim Temple having a legit shot at victory. Look for the power of incumbency to be the difference but focus on the fireworks.
State legislative races:
Senate District 14—Forget this is my district. The thrill here is watching Pat Smith and Cleo Fields, two titans of Baton Rouge African American politics, going head-to-head. It will be interesting to see if Fields, a real comer before getting himself tangled up 21 years ago with some cash and former Gov. Edwin Edwards, has enough juice left to defeat Smith, who, thanks to term limits, is trying to jump from the House to the Senate. How great is it that Fields donated to Southern University a bus from his Leadership Academy, bought with the help of state grant dollars he routinely got when he was at the height of his power?
Senate District 15—Here we get some D-on-D action, with the Facebook feed of Gary Chambers being a must-watch social media experience. He’s already waging a battle with C. Denise Marcelle over her antics involving local Democratic Party endorsements. Regina Ashford Barrow is the incumbent. Chambers has a large social media presence; Barrow has a large campaign war chest.
Senate District 16—It’s a five-person race, but the interest here is Republicans Steve Carter and Franklin Foil, both term-limited House members, battling it out to make an expected runoff against Democrat Beverly Brooks Thompson, a well-organized first-timer. (Disclosure: I have longtime personal friendships with both Carter and Thompson.)
House District 70—Another five-candidate field, another three-horse race. Expect Republicans Michael DiResto, with connections to both politics and business, or Barbara Freiberg, currently on the Metro Council, to face Democrat Belinda Davis, best known for opposing school reform, in the runoff.
EBR Clerk of Court—This is one of a series of races where we’re going to find out about the rising power of Democrats in a parish that mistakenly considers itself conservative. Republican incumbent Doug Welborn has stared down several financial controversies in office, including allegations he made employees pony up to buy him birthday and Christmas presents (which he denies), and challenger Donna Collins Lewis, a Democrat looking to jump from the Metro Council, has decent political chops—and backing.
EBR Assessor—The fact no well-financed candidate will challenge incumbent Brian Wilson, who refuses to accurately do his job, is proof the shadow government of the financially well-off in this town is perfectly comfortable benefitting financially from his incompetence. Keep this in mind the next time these “respected” folks are begging for your support on a future tax proposal.
Livingston Parish Assessor—Forget that it’s Brandon Browning, a Republican, challenging GOP incumbent Jeff Taylor. What’s fabulous about this race is that you have political forces that typically don’t get along teaming in an effort to take down Taylor. Even juicier, those doing the plotting—and bankrolling Browning—are former Taylor allies. In local politics, this is about as good as it gets.
EBR Coroner—Another race that’s really a litmus test for which party controls the parish. Both Beau Clark, the incumbent Republican, and Democrat Rani Whitfield are liked and respected. Expect a clean race that simply lets the voters decide. It’s hard to find anyone who believes Clark isn’t doing a fine job, so if he loses it will be because Democrats—and African American voters in particular—simply choose to vote for one of their own.
St. George incorporation—This race won’t be clean. Both sides have been attacking one another for months and the fun is only getting started. For pure political theater, the most entertaining race of the bunch.
Now, back to you Mr. Fonsi and Mr. Daddy Yankee.