Louisiana politics gets crazier every year, and 2017 was no exception. In fact, there were so many zany stories this year that I had to lump all the scandals into one, under the heading of, well, "Scandals." Each deserved its own listing, but to do that would require ignoring other important stories. With that caveat, here's our annual list of the year's top 10 political stories.
1. New Orleans' watershed election — LaToya Cantrell's victory in the mayor's race, along with the defeat of two council incumbents, proved the post-Hurricane Katrina sea change from a top-down electoral paradigm to a bottom-up model is truly the new normal in local politics. Cantrell spent far less money than runoff opponent Desiree Charbonnet, but thanks to a tightly organized grassroots effort she out-performed Charbonnet among most if not all demographic groups — especially millennials, who proved that young voters can be a decisive electoral force. Not to be outdone, a pair of "independent" political action committees (PACs) likewise proved that future candidates' fates could depend more on who opposes them than who supports them. And, just to make sure we haven't lost our taste for the bizarre, incumbent Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, who was favored to win re-election, suddenly decided to withdraw from the race — leaving perennial candidate Dr. Dwight McKenna to run unopposed.
- U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise continues rehabilitation after being shot during baseball practice in Virginia.
2. Steve Scalise shot — U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who represents parts of New Orleans, Jefferson Parish and the Northshore, nearly lost his life after a lone gunman opened fire on several members of Congress during a practice for a charity baseball game in Virginia. Scalise still faces a long recovery, but he has rebounded with the same energy and grit that have marked his career since he served in the state Legislature.
3. Scandals everywhere — From the Sewerage & Water Board to the Louisiana State Police, from Irvin Mayfield looting the library foundation to the City Council's credit card debacle, it was hard to keep up with all the hijinks in 2017. Cantrell will become New Orleans' first female mayor, but she enters her transition period under the cloud of a credit card scandal that could envelop most if not all of her City Council colleagues. Elsewhere, the Aug. 5 flood proved — literally — that when it rains, it pours. In this case, it poured cold water all over Mitch Landrieu's legacy as a mayor who "knows what to do and how to do it." Speaking of water, State Police Col. Mike Edmonson got into hot water when several of his ranking officers took a road trip to Vegas on taxpayers' time — a diversion Edmonson allegedly tried to cover up after feigning ignorance and outrage. A Legislative Auditor's report also showed Edmonson lived high on the hog at taxpayers' expense. And locally, Grammy winner Mayfield was indicted by the feds for allegedly diverting library foundation money to himself and artistic collaborator Ronald Markham. Mayfield's abuses were first chronicled by WWL-TV investigative reporter David Hammer, who also led an exceptional team report on the S&WB scandal titled "Down the Drain."
4. Fiscal gridlock in Baton Rouge — State finances remain hopelessly (and perilously) in shambles, and lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards point fingers at one another over who's to blame and who's got the right solution. Truth is, both failed to push for meaningful fiscal reform this past year.
5. Monumental delays — Landrieu had to wait for state and federal courts to approve his push to take down Confederate monuments, but his failure to offer a specific plan for the statues' ultimate destination was his own doing. The lack of such a plan, which Landrieu promised, contributed to the circus atmosphere that surrounded the statues' removal. Thankfully, local cops saved the day by proving once again that nobody handles crowds better than the NOPD.
6. Edwards under constant GOP siege — Our Democratic governor remains popular with voters, but that hasn't stopped his Republican adversaries from trying to take him down at every turn. The next statewide elections aren't until the fall of 2019, but already the list of potential GOP opponents is growing. It includes state Attorney General Jeff Landry, U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy, Congressman Ralph Abraham and others.
7. Criminal justice reforms and anti-domestic violence bills draw bipartisan support — Louisiana lawmakers remain divided along party lines on many issues, but legislators from both parties joined forces to pass historic criminal justice reforms and stronger anti-domestic violence laws last spring. Already some "conservatives" are saber rattling against the criminal justice measures (even though most of the bills were authored by Republicans), a sure sign they'll be fodder for demagogues in the next round of elections.
8. Newell Normand steps down — The popular Jefferson Parish sheriff rocked the local political world when he suddenly announced his resignation in July. The bigger surprise was why: He left to become a radio talk show host on WWL-AM. Normand's resignation sets up a political war in Jefferson, which will play out in the March 2018 special election to succeed him. It'll be a doozy. Jefferson hasn't seen a truly open sheriff's race in nearly half a century.
9. Mike Yenni recall petition fails — If you want proof that Louisiana makes it almost impossible to recall an elected official, consider Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni as Exhibit A. More than 70 percent of parish voters say they want him to resign, but a recall petition that required one-third of them to sign up fell way short. Yenni probably took it as a sign of redemption, but few in Jefferson political circles expect him to survive the 2019 election.
10. The Jefferson Parish Council election — When Yenni became parish president in 2016, he resigned as Kenner's mayor. His ally, then-parish Councilman Ben Zahn, won a special election to become Kenner's new mayor. That set up another special election for Zahn's parish council seat — a bare-knuckle brawl between Kenner City Councilman Dominick Impastato and state Sen. Danny Martiny. Impastato won, and now the race is on for his old Kenner council seat. In Jefferson, the dominoes never stop falling.
And in Louisiana politics, there's never a recession. Happy New Year!