Incumbents coasting back to Congress
Foster Campbell was sure he was on to something. The Public Service Commission chairman rose at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner recently to introduce a man who ought to be in Congress, his friend and former colleague in the state Senate, a Democrat who just could knock off two Republican incumbents at once in the merged 3rd District, Dr. Mike Robichaux.
"He's a fighter," Campbell would say later of the public health and environment advocate who stood up to the oil companies and the governor in his day.
So urgent was Campbell's appeal that the ear, nose and throat doctor from Raceland agreed to seriously consider the race, and he did, quickly to learn that Lafourche Parish is no longer in the 3rd District, as redrawn for the fall election. Legally, that would not stop Robichaux from running in the new 3rd, or any other district in the state, as per the U.S. Constitution, though how that would go over with voters is another matter.
Robichaux and his wife briefly considered entering the race in the 1st District instead, where they do live, but finally decided to stick with the life they have and forgo the campaign trail. It's been that kind of year for the Louisiana Democratic Party.
Democrats did get a candidate in the 3rd, when, on the last day of qualifying, attorney Ron Richard of Lake Charles filed to run. An uphill climb remains for him, however, to make the runoff ahead of either congressman, Charles Boustany or Jeff Landry.
Against the delegation's other four GOP incumbents, one only Democrat filed to run, while another challenged the lone Democratic congressman, Cedric Richmond of New Orleans. The state's once dominant party is outnumbered on the fall ballot by Libertarian candidates, five to four, and is tied with those claiming no party.
After last year's forfeit of state elections, the year started more hopefully for Democrats, when its leadership launched a weeklong "Back to Basics" tour of the state. But its itinerary ended on an ominous note in the East Feliciana Parish town of Slaughter. A new chairman was elected in the spring, with more promises of competitive fall elections, which turned out to be empty as well.
That led to a quieter-than-usual pre-election summer, reflected in the lack of TV ads that normally accompany the qualifying period. The member of Congress getting the most airtime, in fact, doesn't run again for four more years, as Sen. David Vitter has been the subject of glowing appreciation ads run by the American Chemistry Council.
The congressional incumbents had a lot to do with their protected status, having taking care of crucial business during reapportionment last year at the State Capitol. They all got districts redrawn to their liking, except for freshman Landry, whose old coastal 3rd was carved up to suit his senior colleagues, especially Boustany.
With little to worry about at home, Congressman Steve Scalise spent the summer recruiting Republican candidates in other states, as he continues working his way up the GOP leadership ladder in Washington.
For Congressman Bill Cassidy, redistricting took away constituents least likely to vote for him, Baton Rouge African-Americans, shifting them into Congressman Richmond's Katrina-depleted 2nd District. They were replaced mostly with white voters in the Bayou Parishes, who could expand Cassidy's base should he, as anticipated, run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
Early this year, the Democratic National Committee, showing how much it knows about Louisiana politics, targeted the Shreveport-Bossier-based 4th District for takeover. They just couldn't find a local Democrat who shared their view of the vulnerability of Congressman John Fleming, who was eventually challenged by a Libertarian.
Unlike some of their colleagues across the country in closed-primary states, our GOP congressmen also face little intra-party opposition. The most moderate Republican, Congressman Rodney Alexander, formerly a Democrat, drew the ire of some businessmen for voting with labor unions a time or two. There was talk he would draw a more pro-business Republican opponent, but just talk, for only a Libertarian and an independent filed against him.
There will be more active election seasons here, but this year, like last year, this state more resembles those others thought to be so boring in their politics. Too bad the peace doesn't come with some prosperity.
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