Regional elections have wider impact

11 14, 2012 by Business Report

No candidates ran statewide on the Nov. 6 ballot, but the impacts of three regional races will be felt statewide—and one nationally, perhaps.

The runoff in the 3rd Congressional District, between two Republican incumbents thrown together by redistricting, will attract national attention, if only because it is the last race left in the U.S. House of Representatives. Political reporters in withdrawal have nowhere else to go.

More than that, the contest between Congressmen Charles Boustany of Lafayette and Jeff Landry of New Iberia reflects the internal struggle within the GOP House Caucus. Boustany is a mainstreamer allied with House leadership, while Landry is a leader in the rump faction of tea party congressmen. Their runoff campaign will play out during the lame duck session of Congress and the search for a deal to avert the looming "fiscal cliff," which has divided the GOP factions and these opponents.

The pre-election notion was that Landry would have the advantage in a runoff because fewer Democrats would vote on Dec. 8, making the electorate more conservative. Yet he underperformed in the primary, trailing Boustany, 45% to 30%. Since then, third-place finisher Democrat Ron Richard of Lake Charles has endorsed Boustany.

Landry has beaten the odds before, largely because he adds something that is missing from state politics lately: personality. His trouble is that voters who meet him tend to like him, but his ideas—as framed in Boustany's attack ads—scare too many of them.

Given the dismal election results for tea party candidates nationally, the outcome of this race could be the final nail for the movement or a sign of its resurrection.

For all the commotion and conflict it took to name Justice Bernette Johnson the next chief of the state Supreme Court, its future balance will be more determined by who wins the runoff in the Capital Region. Law firms and businesses across the state poured money into this district election that will replace retiring Chief Justice Catherine "Kitty" Kimball, who was the key centrist vote.

Given the very split field of Republican candidates, it was no surprise that Court of Appeal Judge John Michael Guidry of Baton Rouge, the endorsed Democrat, led the primary. But the big election-night winner was appellate Judge Jeff Hughes of Denham Springs, who beat out four other Republican judges and a well-funded Democratic attorney to make the runoff. Now endorsed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and with a two-thirds white electorate, Hughes is strongly favored over Guidry, who is black.

Hughes, who carries a gun in his commercials, is avowedly pro-traditional marriage, pro-death penalty and anti-abortion rights, but appearances deceive. According to research by LABI on the candidates' judicial decisions, Hughes was rated the most liberal of all on liability issues—personal injury and medical malpractice cases—which are what the business and legal communities really care about in a Supreme Court justice. Guidry was rated a centrist. Hughes disputes LABI's research.

Confirming business's fears was the support of Hughes by the Citizens for Clean Water and Land PAC, which was formed by leading environmental lawyers who have pressed oilfield contamination claims known as "legacy lawsuits." The group spent $380,000 on television ads for Hughes and, to ensure a runoff to its liking, it sent direct mail pieces to black households urging support for Guidry.

Were the stakes not so high, the politics of this court race would be highly entertaining.

Former Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle had a hard time making up his mind to run for the Public Service Commission, but when he did, he rolled to an impressive 57% majority over four candidates.

With the win, some now see Angelle assuming the mantle of the state's leading Cajun politician, holding an office that historically has been a steppingstone to statewide election. Yet staunch Democrats dispute that, saying that by his switch to the Republican Party, Angelle has forsaken the black vote that boosted previous Acadiana politicians such as Edwin Edwards, John Breaux and Kathleen Blanco to higher office. The move to the GOP, however, didn't stop former governor Mike Foster, coming out of St. Mary Parish.

Early in the race, Angelle took an opponent's dare and pledged to serve a full six-year term, which would rule him out as a 2015 candidate for governor. But promises like that haven't stopped other politicians, either.