The controversy surrounding former U.S. Sen. John Breaux's Louisiana citizenship in connection with his anticipated candidacy for governor won't go away soon, or easily. All's fair in love and war, and this ain't about love.
There seems to be a great deal of confusion about the "citizen" issue, however. The Louisiana Constitution requires a candidate for governor to have been a citizen of the state for the preceding five years. It does not require one to be a "resident" or be "domiciled" here. The constitution does not define "citizen," and the case law is thin on that subject.
This is what litigation is often about -- the gray areas.
Legally, there is ample cover for the courts to come down on either side of the question. We know that residency is an easy threshold to satisfy. It means any place that you might spend the night from time to time. Domicile is a tougher standard to meet. It is one's primary residence, the place to which one goes with an intention to remain indefinitely. The best way to distinguish the two is to remember that a person can have many residences, but only one domicile.
What does that have to do with citizenship?
We don't know yet. One could fashion an excellent argument that one's domicile determines one's citizenship. Breaux has been domiciled in Maryland, where he registered to vote, since late 2005. On the other hand, there are thousands of U.S. citizens who are domiciled in other countries. They're still U.S. citizens, however, and many of them continue to vote in U.S. elections.
Ah, there's the rub: voter registration. When Breaux registered to vote in Maryland, did he inadvertently transfer his citizenship from Louisiana to that state? For what it's worth, I'm betting that that's where the real lawyering will occur if and when Breaux's citizenship is challenged. Anyone who predicts the outcome of such a challenge is blowing smoke. It could go either way.
Meanwhile, in the absence of a judicial determination that Breaux is or is not a citizen, this will remain a hot political topic. As is often the case in politics, keeping that issue alive could be a double-edged sword for Republicans and for Breaux.
Obviously, as long as Breaux's eligibility to run remains in doubt, he runs under a legal cloud. He probably won't have difficulty raising money or attracting supporters, but what happens if the courts should declare him ineligible? Breaux himself has said that he doesn't expect a final ruling until after he officially qualifies. Qualifying is from Sept. 4-6, and even a fast-tracked challenge could take two weeks before the state Supreme Court issues a ruling. And that ruling could be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is no stranger to election disputes (and which warms easily to Republican political causes). Remember how George W. Bush won the 2000 election?
If Breaux chases out all other high-profile Democrats and is then declared ineligible, he effectively will have elected Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal as Louisiana's next governor. That makes his candidacy a risk for Democrats, notwithstanding widespread sentiment that he is their best hope against Jindal.
On the other hand, the continued harping about Breaux's citizenship by right-wing bloggers could also send mixed signals. Specifically, the frequency and intensity of the pre-campaign attacks against Breaux by the GOP leadership and their attack blogs suggest that they are scared to death of Breaux, even as they crow about polls that allegedly show Jindal far ahead.
The state's Republican leaders surely know that when you've got a big lead, you don't go on the attack. So, either Jindal's "lead" over Breaux is fictitious (and the GOP is scared silly of him), or they're making a serious tactical mistake by going on the attack against someone who's not even in the race.
There is a third possibility: They just can't help themselves.
Consider Breaux's race for the U.S. Senate in 1986. He faced Republican Congressman Henson Moore of Baton Rouge. Moore started with a 20-point lead and was a great candidate with a terrific message. Unfortunately for him, his campaign was hijacked by a gaggle of arrogant, ham-fisted Beltway Republicans who would rather lose being mean than win being gracious. They got their wish. They launched a "purge" of black voters and a string of vicious attack ads that sent moderate whites pouring into Breaux's camp, while Moore looked on almost helplessly. Breaux won, even though Moore outspent him three-to-one.
History has a funny way of repeating itself.
- When John Breaux registered to vote in Maryland, did he inadvertently transfer his citizenship from Louisiana to that state?