The year 2014 will be remembered as a watershed in Louisiana politics for many reasons. It was the year the Republican Party completed its long march to dominance, the year Mary Landrieu lost her U.S. Senate seat, the year Big Money made all politics national instead of local and the year that Edwin Edwards finally faced his political mortality.
Herewith our top 10 political stories of 2014 — plus one more for lagniappe. It's been that kind of year.
1. Republican supremacy — State GOP leaders have had U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in their crosshairs for two decades. This year they finally brought her down — with a huge assist from President Barack Obama, the only politician less popular in Louisiana than Gov. Bobby Jindal. Landrieu was the last remaining southern Democrat in the U.S. Senate and the last statewide elected Dem in Louisiana. Her loss to Congressman Bill Cassidy completes the GOP's sweep in Louisiana and sets the stage for U.S. Sen. David Vitter to run for governor next year — just as Jindal announces that he's running for president. Both will have significant GOP opposition. In addition to Obama's unpopularity, Super PACs played a huge role in Landrieu's defeat. They poured millions into her race in support of Cassidy and ushered in a new political era: henceforth, all politics is national, not local.
2. Bobby Jindal's reality distortion flops — Unlike the late Steve Jobs, who reportedly could change reality by dint of his charisma and bravado, Gov. Bobby Jindal fizzles every time he tries to spin his way out of political reality. Examples abound. He continues to act as though he's winning the war against Common Core, when in fact the courts and the Legislature have consistently smacked him down. He's still in official denial about trying to give State Police Col. Mike Edmonson a $55,000-a-year bump in retirement benefits. (Kudos to blogger Tom Aswell for exposing that.) He continues to pretend that Louisiana did not run a deficit last fiscal year — even though Wall Street and state Treasurer John Kennedy forced his administration to admit it to refinance state bonds. He remains in hiding on the Bruce Greenstein indictment, which proves his ethically challenged administration is anything but the "gold standard" he crows about in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere. Voters in Louisiana and across the nation give him embarrassingly low approval ratings, and U.S. Sen. David Vitter has left him in the dust as the leader of the Louisiana GOP. As 2015 begins, his delusion continues: He has scheduled a giant prayer meeting in January to announce his presidential ambitions. Ironically, he's holding it at LSU, which, like all public universities, has suffered massive budget cuts under Jindal. Apparently irony, like reality, is lost on The Boy Blunder.
3. The Common Core war — There's a new political dance craze in Baton Rouge: the Common Core Flip-Flop. Bobby Jindal and David Vitter did their best Fred-and-Ginger this year as they switched from staunch supporters to rabid opponents of the educational standards. Both invoked the far right's favorite bogeyman — Barack Obama, who actually has nothing to do with Common Core — to justify their about-faces. Truth is, they're just pandering to the GOP's red meat crowd. Meanwhile, Louisiana's business leaders are doubling down in support of the standards, and key state lawmakers likewise continue to support Common Core.
4. Mitch Landrieu's re-election — His big sister struggled and lost against a tsunami of GOP opposition, but the New Orleans mayor coasted to an easy victory earlier in the year. Now, however, he has a City Council that seems more inclined than its predecessor to go its own way. That's not unusual for second-term mayors, and Landrieu is as skilled as anyone at working the council. As he did in 2010, Landrieu won re-election with solid support among black as well as white voters.
5. The levee board lawsuit — Big Oil and Bobby Jindal did everything they could to kill the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East's environmental lawsuit against dozens of oil, gas and pipeline companies for destroying fragile coastal wetlands. Indeed, the suit appeared to be near death several times, but favorable court rulings kept it on life support. And in recent months some of the energy defendants have come to the table to settle — which is exactly what proponents of the litigation said the suit was designed to make happen. Stay tuned.
6. Steve Scalise's rise — The Metairie congressman catapulted to national prominence as House Majority Whip after former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor suffered a surprise defeat in Virginia's GOP primary. Scalise honed his skills in the Louisiana Legislature, and he quickly got comfortable in his new role as one of the GOP's leading brokers and dealmakers on Capitol Hill.
7. Blacks regain council majority — After Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans City Council reverted to a white majority, as it appeared the black political establishment had no "bench" of electable candidates. That changed this year as African-American candidates captured a majority of the council seats for the first time in eight years. Their majority grew to 5-2 after the March runoffs.
8. Ray Nagin convicted — The final political chapter of Hurricane Katrina closed with a guilty verdict against the former mayor on federal bribery and corruption charges. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and he will forever be remembered as a corrupt and incompetent poseur who botched our post-Katrina recovery while lining his own pockets. Good riddance.
9. Jefferson Parish's hospital standoff — After years of studies and political maneuvering, the parish council could not reach a decision on which hospital company should lease Jefferson's two publicly owned hospitals. The politicking was intense and continues today, but it appears the council is no closer to a long-term decision than it ever was.
10. The Jefferson Parish School Board war — Four years ago, Jefferson business and civic leaders successfully backed a slate of candidates for the parish school board. The new members stiff-armed the teachers union and instituted a number of other changes. This year, the local teachers union (with $450,000 from the national union) helped elect a new, union-friendly board majority.
Lagniappe: EWE's political death rattle — Former Gov. Edwin Edwards ceased being relevant when he reported to federal prison in 2002, but apparently some political reporters and pundits didn't get the memo. Voters in Louisiana's 6th Congressional District re-issued that memo in boldface when they soundly rejected the doddering Silver Zipper. It just goes to show that Bobby Jindal isn't the only one in Louisiana trying his hand at reality distortion. At least EWE has an excuse — he's in his dotage.
Happy Holidays — and let's hope for better times next year!
The Year in Dining | The Year in Entertainment | The Year in Music
The Year in Film | The Year in Art | The Year in Stage