If there has been one word that has described Lakeview politics over the past 30 years, it would have to be "predictable." One reason why is state Rep. Peppi Bruneau, the colorful Republican legislator who frequently regaled Capitol observers -- and just as often bloodied the noses of his adversaries -- with his take-no-prisoners oratorical style.
As prickly as Bruneau could be in Baton Rouge, he was unassailable in his district. For most of his 31 years in the House of Representatives, he won re-election without opposition.
As Bruneau approached the end of his legislative career -- an end brought about solely by term limits -- it was well known across the district that his son, Jeb, would seek his father's seat. The Bruneau name, despite Peppi's fabled bouts of distemper, still carries a lot of weight and still has a lot of magic in House District 94.
Moreover, Jeb Bruneau has built a record of his own as president of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association during and after Hurricane Katrina. Most folks expected Jeb to attract a bevy of opponents when he ran for his father's seat, but many likewise felt he would hold his own as a candidate. Even those who were occasionally turned off by Peppi's style credited Jeb with having a more statesmanlike disposition.
All of those factors weighed in favor of Jeb Bruneau winning the District 94 seat in the fall.
Too bad his father decided not to leave things to chance.
When the elder Bruneau announced his early retirement in January, triggering a quick election that favored his son, it touched off a firestorm of resentment across the district. The notion of a "father-son handoff," particularly one that requires a special election at a cost of at least $50,000 in taxpayers' money, didn't sit well with Lakeview's conservative voters. It wasn't just the money, either. It was the notion that Bruneau, who often railed against the skullduggery of other lawmakers, was suddenly using some political sleight-of-hand of his own to benefit his son.
And, coming as it did in the wake of Katrina, when more than three-fourths of the district is still struggling to return home against all sorts of odds and obstacles, the idea of a legislator greasing the skids for his kid seemed to rub voters' already frayed nerves raw.
I want to disclose that I live in that district. Gambit Weekly's offices also lie in the district. Over the years, Gambit often praised Bruneau's legislative efforts. In this race, however, we endorsed one of Jeb Bruneau's opponents, Nick Lorusso, a Republican attorney and Army Reserve officer who now faces Jeb in the March 31 runoff. Bruneau won the endorsement of The Times-Picayune and many elected officials who have served with his father. Lorusso won the Alliance for Good Government's endorsement.
There's no doubt that the race was set up for Bruneau to win in the primary. Not only did that not happen, but Bruneau got less than one-third of the vote on March 10. He led the six-candidate field with 32 percent of the vote, followed by Lorusso with 25 percent, but now he looks like the underdog.
For someone named Bruneau to get less than one-third of the vote in that district was astounding. When I voted, several of the commissioners told me -- without any prompting -- that most of the voters seemed "angry" that day.
I don't know if that's an indication of how voters feel elsewhere in the state, but I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of incumbents are tossed in the fall elections. Katrina has changed everything, and suddenly nothing seems predictable -- not even in Lakeview.
- Jeb Bruneau (left) and Nick Lorusso will meet in a March 31 runoff for the House District 94 seat.