With the speed of a swift-moving Category 5 hurricane, the Louisiana Republican Party was devastated and finds itself without two of its stalwart leaders and facing a rebuilding process. Who will step up and replace U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Gov. Bobby Jindal? Both are headed for the political bench and will no longer have a starring role as quarterbacks of the Louisiana GOP.
Election Year 2015 was a defining moment for the party – and not in a good way. And Vitter and Jindal can share the blame for the devastation that took place. Jindal’s second term as governor was a disaster as he was more focused on running for president than running the state. His disapproval rating catapulted to 70% in some polls, making him the second-most unpopular governor in the country.
As for Vitter, hindsight is definitely 20-20 He realizes now, to be sure, that he should have stayed in the Senate where he had seniority and was amassing more power as the years went by. He probably would not have been challenged for a third term in 2016. Vitter and Jindal, both with big egos, controlled most of the Louisiana Republican Party, but in separate factions. The two never liked one another and always refused to help the other. Vitter had his power base and Jindal had his. In the governor’s race, Vitter could have benefited from those 30% of voters who still believe Jindal is a good governor, but no endorsement came from the outgoing governor.
In fact, he upstaged Vitter when the senator seemed to have some momentum over the Syrian refugee issue by announcing he was pulling out of the presidential race. Vitter’s involvement in a prostitution scandal and Jindal’s overwhelming unpopularity created the perfect storm for a two-term Democratic state representative from the little town of Amite.
John Bel Edwards, to his credit, seized upon the opportunity despite the fact that some prominent Democrats were urging him not to run and instead back a Republican candidate other than Vitter. Perhaps it was the training Edwards received at West Point which made him determined to fight the battle to the end. And, in the end, he scored a landslide victory over Vitter, getting 56% of the vote. He became the first Democrat to be elected to a statewide office since 2008. But while the victory flag flies momentarily, Edwards realizes he has another battle ahead as he deals with a Legislature that is majority Republican in both houses.
No doubt Edwards will have to reach back for all that fighting strategy he learned at West Point as he tries to change the state’s political direction. As such, Edwards has chosen Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell of Elm Grove to co-chair a key committee on his transition team. Campbell will co-chair the Fiscal Matters Transition Committee along with Sharon Robinson, former Inspector General and Assistant Legislative Auditor. The Fiscal Matters Committee will be charged with identifying ways to eliminate the budget deficit, fund K-12 and higher education, and improve access to healthcare in the state. In announcing the appointments, Edwards said, “Louisiana faces severe budget challenges, and until we address them head-on, we cannot begin the work of rebuilding our state.” Several prominent Louisianians are serving on the committee, which is already meeting and will meet several times a week throughout the transition.
Among members of the committee from the area are April Jordan, staff auditor for the city of Shreveport; former state Sen. Lydia Jackson, a vice president at Capital One Bank; and Wayne Brown, CEO of Brown Builders. The appointment of Campbell to such a key committee has not gone unnoticed by some conservative Republicans, who are friends of the oil and gas industry. Campbell, who served 25 years in the Senate before becoming Public Service Commissioner, has long-advocated an oil processing tax, which won the support of then-Governor David Treen, but the bill never made it through the Legislature, thanks to the powerful oil and gas lobby. Campbell’s appointment has spooked the oil and gas lobbyists because they realize that he has never given up on making such a tax a reality. And conservative bloggers and talk show hosts are already blasting away at Campbell and Edwards. Making them even more nervous is the fact that Campbell is saying that he is giving serious consideration to running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican David Vitter.
Lou Gehrig Burnett is a seasoned veteran of politics. He publishes Fax-Net Update, a weekly political newsletter.