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Breaux ex Machina

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Despite the gods' best efforts to save us from ourselves, elections are still decided by mortals. And that means lots can go wrong. Here's a political riddle for you: What three things does Brad Pitt have that John Breaux wishes he had?

Answer: A killer smile, a history with Jennifer Aniston, and an official Louisiana residence.

Okay, I was kidding about the first two things, but not about the last.

In Louisiana political circles these days, rumors of a Breaux sighting get Democrats' hearts to fluttering almost as much as schoolgirls get giddy over the prospect of bumping into Pitt at the flea market.

Breaux got everybody buzzing at the recent Washington Mardi Gras Ball when he let on that he might consider running for governor later this year -- if incumbent Gov. Kathleen Blanco, for whom he hosted a fundraiser during the Potomac carnival, opts not to run.

The Washington Ball is always a tinderbox of political rumors, especially in a statewide election year such as this. As rumors go, Breaux's latest flirtation with the governor's race (he did it back in 2003 as well) was about as incendiary as they come. Putting aside the question of tact -- How do you host a fundraiser for a "friend" and then allow that you might be willing to take her job? -- Breaux is immensely popular, extremely capable and (in the eyes of Blanco-weary Democrats) eminently electable.

Or so the theory goes.

But let's take the stars out of our eyes and look at things in the light of day.

The notion of Breaux giving up his million-dollar Washington lobbying job, which he earned by spending several productive decades in the Congress and Senate, to come back to take over a broken state reminds me of the ancient Greek and Roman storytelling device known as deus ex machina -- God from a machine. When the plot line got too complicated for mere mortals to resolve, the playwright would simply lower one of the gods on wires so that he could miraculously restore order. That was fine for ancient audiences, but in modern theater it's considered more than a little ham-handed.

Politically, the notion of John Breaux descending from his new (official) residence on Maryland's Eastern Shore to rescue Louisiana from its impossible travails strikes me as an equally improbable plot device. Here's why:

First, Breaux doesn't live in Louisiana anymore. He isn't even registered to vote here (or at least, he wasn't as of last week). His name was removed from the Acadia Parish rolls in 2005 when he registered to vote in Maryland. True, he could move back and register in time to qualify in September, but that doesn't address the Louisiana Constitution's requirement that a candidate for governor be a "citizen" of the state for the preceding five years. Breaux and the GOP reportedly have lawyers researching what a "citizen" is under state law, and that should be a big red flag for all those who see Breaux as the Democrats' savior. If your hero has to survive a legal challenge to his candidacy, he's got problems.

Second, I admit that I have long been a fan of Breaux, but I don't think he's quite the 800-pound gorilla that he once was. Sure, he looks like King Kong when everybody's bellied up to the bar of the Washington Hilton, but he hasn't been a U.S. senator for more than two years now, and he hasn't had a tough race since 1986. Don't underestimate the importance of staying in shape politically by having your mettle tested every four or six years. Breaux's immense popularity while a senator, like many things in politics, was a double-edged sword. He was unassailable then, but now there's a whole generation of Louisiana voters (many of them close in age to Bobby Jindal) who have never had to choose between Breaux and a credible opponent.

Third, to be true to his word, Breaux must wait for The Governess to throw in the towel. She has $3 million in her campaign account and some scores to settle. If she makes up her mind quickly, that would be a first. Meanwhile, this storyline is on hold.

At the end of the day, the notion of Breaux ex machina may not work any better as political theater than its dramatic counterpart. Remember Mitch Landrieu descending from the heavens to rescue New Orleans by running for mayor? Despite the gods' best efforts to save us from ourselves, elections are still decided by mortals. And that means lots can go wrong.

Does John Breaux, at this stage of his career, want to learn that same lesson?

I don't think so.

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