Lightning Strikes and a Democrat is Elected Governor in the South

JBE_001New Orleans   Even when State Representative John Bel Edwards from small town Amite, Louisiana, known for little of nothing other than being near where Abita beer is made and on the way to Mississippi, led in the open primary against three Republicans, when asked about his real chances of winning, I was doubtful. He wasn’t the first Democrat to lead a primary race after all. The trick in recent years has been hanging on.

Edwards though ended up with a smashing, almost historic runoff victory, unseating the conservative Republican two-term sitting U.S. Senator David Vitter and administering a butt whipping with nearly a 150000 vote margin and winning by 56% to 44%. In ruby red Louisiana, in recent years a Republican stronghold, Edwards becomes the first Democrat in eight years to win a statewide election. In the Republican solid South with the recent defeat of Kentucky’s Democratic governor, Edwards will also soon become the only Democrat sitting in the governor’s chair in the South.

The pundits are careful to underline that Edwards’ victory does not mark a sea change, but something more akin to a rogue wave. True or false?

Well, it’s true enough that Edwards is a blue dog Democrat rather than a yellow dog one. He’s pro-gun and anti-abortion though wisely not foaming at the mouth on either issue. Significantly, he also benefited from long family and political ties to the critical local law enforcement groups and even won the association of sheriff’s endorsement. He also has a military background including West Point in his resume which meant his only experience with camouflage pants wasn’t while touring the set for Duck Dynasty like either Vitter or Louisiana’s occasional governor and until recently full-time presidential aspirant, Bobby Jindal. Nonetheless, he was enthusiastically endorsed by labor, and wildly loved by the teachers’ unions for his opposition to charters, privatization, and vouchers, which have been constant Jindal themes. He was also clear in a state with more uninsured than any other that he would expand Medicaid thereby embracing the Obamacare punching bag. He also had hardcore business opposition for his pledge to create a state minimum wage where now Louisiana has none.

The Kentucky strategy of tying Edwards to Obama to defeat him was a total loser though, even though it had worked for Vitter in the past. So, learn from that, pundit posse!

One clear lesson, always true and worth remembering, has to do with arrogance. Vitter’s history in the Louisiana legislature and in Congress has been to always fly solo while pointing his fingers at colleagues and trying to shame them for this and that. It turns out that what goes around, comes around, and Vitter was completely alone at the end. His Republican opponents either took a walk or endorsed Edwards calling Vitter “vicious” and a “liar. Voices in his support were few and far between. It turns out that if are a mean, self-servicing, son-of-a-bee, eventually it will bite you, and if you add hypocrisy to that, whoa, Nellie, you’re going down.

Another lesson has to do with competence in actually governing, rather than purity in ideological posturing, both administered by the Bobby Jindal ego-trip. When it’s Republicans in charge from top to bottom and the state is in a total fiscal and economic mess, and the majority of the citizens are hurting, eventually that bill will come due at the polls. Jindal for eight straight years had a budget that by constitution had to be balanced returned for fixing or fudging by the legislature, while kowtowing to out of state ideologues. The first rule of all politics is that you have to tend to your own base first, and the corollary should now be that if you worship at the altar of Republican orthodoxy and forget that rule then change is going to come.

It’s worth remembering that decades ago politicians and political scientists from V.O. Key onward once believed that the solid South meant everyone was a Democrat. Some thought, wrongly, that would last forever. I can remember my father saying he never had a choice in Louisiana about whether to register as anything but a Democrat or he would have only been able to vote once every four years for President, and he was right. The pendulum can and will swing, and the more the Republicans go harder and harder right, leaving more and more people out of the sight and out of mind, the more likely their dominance will be as temporary as it has been painful for people.


Governor of Texas? Our Day Will Come!

Protesters In Texas Statehouse Block Texas Lawmakers From Passing Abortion BillRock Creek  Hearing the news was a little like the sonic boom from an airplane high in the sky that reaches your ears before you can spot the trailing plumes or the shiny fuselage.  It was as if women throughout the country breathed a collective sigh at the news that Rick Perry would not be running for a 4th term as governor of Texas.  Perhaps he’s gearing up for another embarrassing and futile run for President because he didn’t feel he took enough of a whipping from his Republican competitors last time out.   Frankly, who cares, let’s simply count our blessings while we can and be glad a lot of “our exes are in Texas,” as the country and western song, used to sing with Perry and now a couple of Bushes down there.

            Some folks are pushing the courageous and upstanding state legislator from Fort Worth, Wendy Davis, as a possible Democratic candidate, believing that she has channeled a bit of the Ann Richards spirit through her 13 hour filibuster to block at least for a while an anti-abortion measure near and dear to Perry’s heart.  She would be an exciting candidate, but Texas is big time politics, costing big time money, which is why Perry was able to finance a quixotic race for president last year even though he never could move the needle on the polls.  He had long finagled one program after another for his friends and various businesses in order to grow the money tree so he could harvest when he needed to do so.  Davis in her 2nd term is a marked woman in rough country even running for re-election in Fort Worth, so coming up with $20 million or so to be competitive in a Texas governor’s race could be a stretch.

            But, really that’s OK.  Sometimes the giant killer doesn’t have to end up being the giant.  In Arkansas years ago a fellow named Ted Boswell from near Bryant outside of Little Rock challenged the legendary rightwing populist, Democratic multi-term governor of that state, Orval Faubus, in the Democratic primary.   Boswell was an attractive, progressive lawyer and gave Faubus a great race, though he fell short.   Next time out though Dale Bumpers beat Faubus and everyone else and easily unseated Winthrop Rockefeller, the Republican incumbent.  Boswell had shown the way.

            The same thing may be true for Davis and for Democrats in Texas.   Increasingly the population trends are moving rapidly towards the day that Texas will once again be Lyndon Johnson sky blue.   Maybe not in 2014, but possibly 2018 and almost certainly 2022, but whenever, the time is coming.   Disturbingly some of the same numbers are saying that blue states in the Midwest and even Pennsylvania could turn as red as the South is now.  We’ll worry about that later, but for now let’s join the women and poor people of Texas in celebrating the fact that Perry is finally leaving for another pasture.