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.

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Bobby Jindal Finally Takes Us Out of Some of Our Misery

screen-shot-2014-10-01-at-1-39-12-pmNew Orleans   There is a pretty fair dose of embarrassment that comes from just plain living in Louisiana. Poverty, inequality, education, health, welfare, and football teams are regularly at the top of every list, though most of these are bad lists to be on and require lots of apologizing. Even trying to catch a break by changing the subject to New Orleans can quickly go down a bad road about Katrina recovery, crime, boiling water to drink, and, well, some people think the city is dirty from what they tell me. If you are going to live in Louisiana, you have to learn to take it in stride and shrug it off.

Adding insult to injury though has been the humiliating farce of Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal’s perverse fantasy run for President of the United States. There has never been a rational way to explain this other than an ego trip divorced from all reality.

Sometimes governors run for President as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton did based on their record in their home states. In Jindal’s case, there was no way to pretend he wasn’t running based on his record in Louisiana, yet that’s been abysmal.

Louisiana is going into the eighth straight year of a budget shortfall, this time by what looks like a half-billion, and because of Jindal’s no-taxes pledge to Grover Norquist, a Washington resident who to the best of anyone’s knowledge does not live and suffer in Louisiana, many citizens would embrace voodoo economics as something better than what Jindal was pretended. Universities have been decimated. Hospitals have been semi-privatized to outside contractors but the contracts are short money to run them. Medicaid was not expanded under the Affordable Care Act even though the state leads the nation in the number of low income families without health protection. There is no state minimum wage. Like I said, there will soon be a proposal to change the license plate slogan from Sportsman’s Paradise to Shamer’s Paradise.

Jindal pretty clearly made the decision some years ago to sacrifice the State of Louisiana and its citizens on the altar of his ambition. In order to try to build a crazy conservative base there were never any obstacles to the outrages, including the legal limits of his considerable powers as governor under the Louisiana constitution. Planned Parenthood, get them out of the state. Syrians, no way, Jose. Guns, let ‘em fire. Immigrants, deport every last one. Honduran children, get them out of here. Charter schools, vouchers, and religious extremism, bring it on! And, so on and so on.

The arc of justice eventually bends our way though. None of this boot licking worked. A cartoon in one the newspapers had Jindal giving his announcement that he was dropping his Presidential campaign, while calling for his “supporter,” singular, not plural. His popularity is now about 20% in Louisiana. Pundits believe he may be sinking the Republican shot at replacing him. President Obama is now more popular than Jindal in Louisiana!

Finally, some of the embarrassment for Louisiana will ease. Jindal’s ego fueled presidential run is over. Jindal said he has come to realize, “it’s not my time.” Sadly, he has not come to realize that he has now squandered his time, and it will never ever be his time. His time is over.

Now the big problem for Louisianans is living with Jindal’s scorched earth governance policies, and that pain will last for years.

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