Publisher: David Vitter and the elephant in the room

In a few months we will vote to choose the leader of Louisiana for the next four years.

It is an important decision and one that should keep our state moving forward, not take it back to the days of old. I’m a native of this great state, and I’ve lived here for 60 years, so I well remember the jokes by late-night TV hosts about our colorful governor, Edwin Edwards, in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. I remember the disrespect folks had for Louisiana as I traveled to national conventions. We were “the joke”—but it wasn’t funny, and we lost residents and thousands of jobs during that time. We were at the bottom of every economic ranking. Leadership matters and so does your image and reputation, and we too often lacked all three.

The person elected governor this year should be a person with integrity and character. They should be authentic and honest and possess the conservative values that most Louisianans hold dear. They should have a vision for the future and a reputation that is credible so they can sell that vision to our people and to business executives nationwide and worldwide. That will be a big challenge that will require a leader who is focused on the future—not one who is distracted by the past or apologizing for it.

While everyone is now touting U.S. Sen. David Vitter as the frontrunner, with millions in his campaign account and super PAC, they have ignored the “elephant in the room”—his history with the “D.C. Madam,” which, like Bill Clinton’s own reputation, he will forever carry when he is mentioned in the media or around the boardroom table or kitchen table. The question we must all ask ourselves is not, “Can Vitter survive his past and squeak by with enough votes to win?” but, “Is he the leader for the future or will Louisiana’s image and economic development suffer because of his sullied reputation?

When the D.C. Madam scandal became public in 2007, Vitter responded quickly, saying, “This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there—with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way.”

We are all human and make mistakes and are in need of forgiveness. God can forgive, and so should we. I am sure he felt very lucky to be re-elected to his Senate seat in 2010. (He was fortunate that President Barack Obama was so unpopular in Louisiana.) But now he is asking the people of Louisiana to again overlook his past and promote him from one of 100 representatives in the U.S. Senate to one of only 50 state CEOs and the “face of Louisiana.” That is a very big “ask,” and everything comes back into play. I believe that would be a bad hire.

Let’s just look back to last year, when Louisiana was back in the national headlines with the “kissing congressman,” Vance McAllister.  I wrote then, when State Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere called for McAllister to resign, that this would come up again regarding Vitter. And so it has. Villere said, “Mr. McAllister’s extreme hypocrisy is an example of why ordinary people are fed up with politics. A breach of trust of this magnitude can only be rectified by an immediate resignation. He has embarrassed our party, our state and the institution of Congress.” (What will Villere say about Vitter?)

McAllister didn’t resign but said he would not seek re-election. He later changed his mind—but the voters didn’t, and he finished fourth. If the voters of our state are consistent with those in the 5th Congressional District and hold Vitter to the same standard, where will he finish?

Vitter has to know and expect this issue of character, integrity and trust will be front and center in the gubernatorial campaign, and he will be asked about in an upcoming debate or town hall. (I am sure it will be something the super PACs or a “527” will use.) But it is not just because politics has become distasteful; it is something on the minds of many voters—especially women. He can’t just dismiss this and say, “That is a personal matter and I have addressed it and apologized, and I won’t say anything more about it.” I am sure he will try this tactic, but it won’t suffice in such an important election—and it shouldn’t.

Given this very personal and painful issue for his family that he has already gone through once—why would he put them through this public agony again? I question his judgment here even if his family says, “We support your decision.”

Vitter is a smart guy and tough campaigner. I have known him for many years and knew he had high aspirations. I had been a supporter of Vitter in the past (though I did not endorse him in 2010). I do remember fighting for charter schools with him in the Legislature long ago. But his scandal made national news and still comes up. Maybe most important and upsetting to many voters is that he made family values a major campaign issue and used it in the 2004 Senate campaign. Those actions are what still make it an issue in this major race for governor. It’s about trust and integrity. All of the candidates running for governor should be held accountable for their pasts and be questioned as well.

Many voters or groups seem to take the position that as long as Vitter agrees with them on key issues and votes their way, they’re willing to overlook the past. But, he has proved in the past that he is willing to forgo his beliefs for his own edification. This has been true in both his politics and his personal life. Will he do it again?

You have to decide what is important in casting your vote and what qualities and reputation you expect in the next governor. The clock is ticking—and we shouldn’t turn it back.

MORE ‘POLITICAL CORRECTNESS’

Many feel the popularity of Donald Trump is fueled by his refusal to be politically correct and tick people off. He admits it. And when you read more and more in the news you can understand why many folks are angry and fed up. It is absurd.

—Recently, Democratic governor and presidential candidate Martin O’Malley said, “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.” And he got booed. And then worse, he apologized. For what, the truth?

—Now Target has announced that it intends go “gender neutral” in its stores by eliminating the colors blue and pink in displays and signage and getting rid of the words “boys” and “girls” on clothing and toys. Really?

CONGRATULATIONS

Bobby Yarborough, CEO and co-owner of Manda Fine Meats, is the 2015 recipient of the Grace “Mama” Marino Lifetime Achievement Award. It is a well-deserved honor. The award will be presented by The Baton Rouge Epicurean Society on Aug. 27, as part of its annual Fête Rouge event, with proceeds benefiting local childhood health and nutrition programs.

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