Monday, February 26, 2007

What the voters perceived as truth came at an inconvenient time

Al Gore’s now Oscar-winning little film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” carries a convenient title when one considers Saturday’s outcome in one local race for the state legislature.
District 4 voters decided a current office-holder (Shreveport City Council member Calvin Lester) didn’t need to replace a current office-holder (Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover, who was term limited in Dist. 4 anyway), and it could be a couple of inconvenient truths which determined the outcome.
Preparing to square off in the runoff (set for next month) are Patrick Williams, who picked up the endorsement of The Times, and Larry Ferdinand. Both Williams and Ferdinand are experienced local officeholders, with Williams previously serving on the Caddo Commission and Ferdinand occupying a past seat on the city council.
Some “experts” are expressing only a hint of surprise that current councilman Lester finished third, and a distant third at that, in the District 4 contest. Williams latched onto more than 40 percent of the vote while Ferdinand finished in the mid-20s. Lester polled in the very low 20s, finishing just under 200 votes behind Ferdinand. For an incumbent city councilman entering his second term, that has to be a tremendous disappointment.
When filing deadline ended a couple of months ago, Lester was considered the odds-on favorite to garner at least a runoff spot. He had just been re-elected to a second term on the council, and his second win put aside memories of a cliff-hanging win in his first go ‘round. But the inconvenient truths which may have led to his rapid fall from favor may indicate that voters aren’t going to be as forgiving as in the past.
While District 4 voters were in the early stages of deciding on their candidate, word hit the press that Lester was facing severe discipline from the state bar association. According to reports, candidate/councilman Lester faces charges which could lead to a three-year suspension of his license to practice law in the state. That latest pronouncement came atop other brushes with ethics problems, many of which came to light as he sat in his council seat.
Word on the street just days before the election centered on charges which might be filed in the future, but nothing came to light publicly. Whisper campaigns, however, are a powerful small district tool, and a couple of District 4 residents said Lester’s star was falling at a critical time — the final 72 hours. The inconvenient truth...whatever the rumors may have been, the fact that Lester had widely publicized ethics problems only added fuel to the fire.
Another inconvenient truth: Lester’s first victory came with the assistance of white Republicans in his district. Although the numbers are not overwhelming, they proved to be enough. This time, however, his white voters went for the two frontrunners. In fact, one Republican letter in the district endorsed Ferdinand; another group of residents sporting an “R” on their registration card indicated Williams was their choice.
Inconvenient or not, while voters in the friendly confines of his council district may have been supportive, the truth is that Lester’s problems were perceived by his broader constituency in Legislative District 4 as more than they were willing to overlook.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Who's in with the "in" crowd?

State Sen. Walter Boasso has finally ended the suspense with his announcement that a "formal" announcement of his intentions to run for Governor will be forthcoming. While his candidacy can be described as dark horse at best, it still puts a minor strain on the state's Republicans who had hoped that only Bobby Jindal would bear the standard in the fall. Campaign '07 won't be a "Vitterized" affair for Republicans, and word from the friendly confines of south Louisiana continues to filter northward that at least one more Republican — albeit a non-household name — is still wanting to take a shot at the Baton Rouge hot seat.
Even more interesting is continued speculation that Gov. Kathleen Blanco won't pull the trigger on another term. Fueling that speculation is the interest being shown in the upcoming by some Democrat heavyweights, not the least of which is former head of the state Democratic Party, Jim Bernhardt, top dog and possessor of the key to the bank of the Shaw Group. If this year's run for the governor's seat is expected to be an expensive one, Bernhardt will not be short on ammunition.
Another prominent name among Democrats who's being urged to consider a run is U.S. Congressman Charlie Melancon. Despite his new-found status as part of the majority (and holder of a couple of plum committee assignments in D.C.), and despite his protestations that he's happy with where he is, Melancon could be enticed to make an off-season (meaning he would not have to give up his seat to enter the campaign) run if there were no incumbent in the race. Money, of course, would be no problem for Melancon. Although he's not as well-heeled as Bernhardt, national party members do not want to see this governorship escape the fold. There needs to be some well-established means for credit-taking just in case New Orleans recovery begins to roll forward, and nothing would look better on an '08 resume for the nationals than a Democrat who's making things happen in this state.
A pretty good political guru believes Jindal won't run as well this time around as he did in the '03 elections, even if a seriously damaged Blanco is his opponent. That is fuel for speculation. What many other prognosticators do have in common is their belief that Jindal will have a pretty tough time against a well-organized, well-financed, well-known and politically clean (sorry Barak) Democrat. The question of the moment: will the state Democratic Party ask (translated: demand) that Blanco step aside for the good of the party or will they stand muted in the face of opposition to the incumbent from within her own party?
Already, one name recognized Democrat (at least in the northern corridor of the state) is in the process of tossing his hat into the ring. Public Safety Commissioner Foster Campbell continues to talk like a candidate, walk like a candidate and travel like a candidate. All that remains is for Campbell to sign on the dotted line and begin raising money. Whether or not some "experts" will believe it, Campbell is a threat to Blanco's primary base of support (blacks and those in the lower and middle income brackets) and could be the one person who widens the crack in the levee which will pour other Dems into the race.
Give all this another 60 days or so to shake out. We'll most likely know which way the breezes are blowing about legislative session time in April, and the indicators will almost certainly be pointing in one direction or the other following that session.
And, if the past special session is an indicator, legislative Republicans may have as much to say as mainstream Democrats about which Democrats are in the race.