Louisiana elections never fail to surprise, even when the results are more or less what was anticipated. This year, at least on Nov. 4, the surprise was how smoothly (and how quickly) the returns came in. Locally, statewide and nationally, it was all over but the shoutin' by 11 p.m. Nobody expected that. Another surprise was the mixed bag of results for local political parties. Democrats won the big national prize as well as the big statewide contest (the U.S. Senate race). But Republicans made key gains in congressional and local races, proving once again that when the nation zigs, we zag. Because each party can claim its share of important wins, we have the anomalous result of both parties appearing in the "winnas" column, along with reminders of where they lost. The biggest "loozas" included trial lawyers and the local teachers' union, which runs counter to national Democratic triumphs.
With so much on the ballot and so much at stake, it's not easy to pare down our annual list of victors and vanquished but here goes, beginning with
1. The Louisiana Democratic Party Local Democrats failed to carry the state for Barack Obama, but his victory nationwide means the patronage pipeline once again will flow in their direction particularly with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's big win against GOP challenger John Kennedy. Landrieu's win also gave the lie to earlier predictions of a "Katrina effect." In the wake of the 2005 hurricanes, many conservatives licked their chops at the prospect of thousands of Democratic voters leaving south Louisiana. While many African-American voters did indeed relocate, almost as many new Democrats registered in anticipation of Obama's historic victory. This bodes well for future Democratic efforts. Another key part of the Democrats' win was Landrieu's success at getting local Republican officials to endorse her over Kennedy, much to the chagrin of GOP mullahs. On the other hand, fractured Democratic efforts in the Baton Rouge area cost the party new Congressman Don Cazayoux's seat in the Sixth District, thanks to Democratic state Rep. Michael Jackson's "independent" (read: spoiler) bid there. In other congressional races, the news was just as bad for Democrats: Republican incumbents held off spirited Democratic challengers in the First and Seventh districts as freshman Steve Scalise and four-year veteran Dr. Charles Boustany Jr. both coasted to re-election. Meanwhile, Democrats in and out of Louisiana face the specter of a re-elected (but not rehabilitated) Bill Jefferson on Dec. 6.
2. The Louisiana GOP The state party fared much better than its national counterpart as John McCain easily carried the Bayou State last Tuesday. And while the GOP fell way short of unseating Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, Republicans recaptured the Sixth District congressional seat taken away from them five months ago by Cazayoux. Republican state Sen. Dr. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge beat Cazayoux with a 48.1 percent plurality thanks to Jackson, an African-American Democrat who ran as an independent (with significant financial support from Republicans). Jackson ran out of spite after national Democrats passed him over five months ago in the special election won by Cazayoux. This seat likely will remain in Republican hands for another two decades, depending on how district lines are drawn after the 2010 Census. Elsewhere, Congressman Scalise easily held off an expensive challenge by Democratic newcomer Jim Harlan in the First District, while two-term incumbent Boustany likewise trounced Democratic state Sen. Don Cravins Jr. in the Seventh District. In other elections, the GOP held on to seats on the Public Service Commission and in the state Senate, and gained two seats on the Orleans Parish School Board. Looking ahead, the party is poised to mount a quiet (it thinks) but intense campaign on behalf of attorney Anh "Joseph" Cao against Congressman Bill Jefferson on Dec. 6. There will be no Barack Obama turnout among black voters that day and more than 41,000 Republicans in the Second District will get their first chance to vote against Dollar Bill. Depending on turnout, that one could get interesting.
3. Business Interests Big business won two key races when candidates backed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry won hard-fought contests for the Louisiana Supreme Court. In Baton Rouge, incumbent Justice Kitty Kimball, a Democrat, smashed Republican appellate Judge Jeff Hughes (who was backed by, of all people, Cleo Fields more on that below) and will become Louisiana's first female chief justice. Closer to home, appellate Judge Greg Guidry's victory in the race to succeed retiring Chief Justice Pascal Calogero gives conservatives a four-vote majority on the high court.
4. Gov. Bobby Jindal The governor's late TV ad for state Treasurer John Kennedy wasn't enough to put Kennedy over the top, but it did tighten things up a lot in the U.S. Senate race. Jindal thus gets a two-fer: He kept Kennedy from losing by an even wider margin; and, because he declined to attack Mary Landrieu directly, he gets to continue taking advantage of her seniority and seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Jindal's endorsement and TV ad also helped seal Cassidy's victory in the Sixth Congressional District, which the GOP recaptured last week.
5. The Recovery No, Ray Nagin didn't resign. But the two next best things for south Louisiana's recovery did transpire last week: Mary Landrieu held on to her U.S. Senate (and Appropriations Committee) seat, and Barack Obama won the presidential election. John McCain visited Louisiana more often during the campaign, but Obama is considered more sympathetic to New Orleans' needs. Specifically, he is seen as more supportive of the proposed LSU teaching hospital, a neighborhood-based health care delivery system, and stronger flood protection. Democratic gains in the House and Senate also make recovery proponents optimistic about the chances of Louisiana getting more federal aid.
6. Charter School Advocates Every new member of the Orleans Parish School Board supports charter schools, although most if not all acknowledge that charters are not a panacea. Charter proponents also have a key supporter where it counts most in the White House. Yep, President-elect Barack Obama is a big fan of charter schools. Several big names in the local charter movement even held a fundraiser for Obama during his campaign.
7. Entergy The utility company held on to the Public Service Commission seat it has "owned" during outgoing PSC member Jay Blossman's tenure when its new BFF, attorney Eric Skrmetta, overwhelmed former PSC member John Schwegmann last week. Schwegmann relied on name recognition among older voters to lead in the Oct. 4 primary, then failed to raise enough money to counter Skrmetta's barrage of attack ads in the runoff. This was déja vu all over again: in 1996, Blossman ousted Schwegmann, who failed to answer his opponent's attacks. Meanwhile, the utilities have shown that they can still buy a PSC seat.
8. Newell Normand The Jefferson Parish sheriff played a huge role in several races. He helped Mary Landrieu carry Jefferson for the first time in her bid for a third term in the U.S. Senate. He also made a hard-hitting late TV ad for school board member Ellen Kovach, who defeated District Judge Martha Sassone. A year ago, Normand won his job with 91 percent of the vote a benchmark even his mentor and predecessor, Harry Lee, never reached. This year, he displayed something else that perpetually eluded Lee: transferability.
Which brings us to
1. Trial Attorneys Plaintiff lawyers lost their attempt to keep a "liberal" in Chief Justice Calogero's state Supreme Court seat when appellate Judge Roland Belsome failed to make the runoff. Trial lawyers then tried to rally behind Judge Jimmy Kuhn against Judge Greg Guidry in that runoff, but Guidry prevailed. The high court now has a four-to-three conservative majority.
2. The United Teachers of New Orleans UTNO, the union of public school workers (not just teachers, despite its name), has been angling to get back into the game after a post-Katrina reorganization of local public schools ushered the union out the door. The union remains on the outs, as a majority of the new Orleans Parish School Board members espoused anti-union platforms.
3. The James Carter Movement The popular (and very ambitious) New Orleans city councilman from Algiers was touted as The Next Big Thing by some prominent Uptown reformers, who zealously promoted his candidacy against Bill Jefferson and who were lining up to help him possibly run for mayor in early 2010. Instead of burnishing his image as a rising political star, Carter's dismal showing in the Second Congressional District race seemed to expose a soft political underbelly. He finished fifth, just barely ahead of former District C Councilman Troy "C" Carter, a perennial fizzler who this time posted his worst political finish ever sixth place out of seven candidates. Instead of positioning himself to run for mayor in 15 months, James Carter now must repair the damage to his political stock and his Uptown business supporters may have to shop around for a new candidate for mayor.
4. Mayor Ray Nagin Hizzoner once again failed to display any semblance of political leadership. He stayed out of the red-hot DA race and gave tepid support for Dollar Bill Jefferson in the Second Congressional District. Meanwhile, Kenya Smith, one of his top former aides, ran dead last in the congressional primary against Jefferson. Nagin couldn't even muster a half-hearted endorsement for Smith, who was loyal to his old boss till the end. It was yet another reflection of Nagin's utter disengagement from politics and government.
5. Paul Connick The Jefferson Parish DA went all out for two judicial candidates who lost big. Connick cut a strongly worded TV ad for incumbent Judge Sassone in the Oct. 4 primary and then put himself even more on the line in a follow-up ad in the runoff, only to see Sassone lose to school board member Ellen Kovach by a lopsided 63-37 percent margin. In another judicial contest, Connick laid it on thick for one of his assistants, attorney Norma Broussard (daughter-in-law of Parish President Aaron Broussard), who lost 55-45 percent in the Oct. 4 primary. In a year in which other high-profile figures in Jefferson's criminal justice system lined up behind winners, the DA stands out for his high-profile flops. Fortunately for Connick, he was re-elected this year without opposition.
6. Cleo Fields The former Baton Rouge state senator, who once was the state's leading black political power broker, backed a Republican appellate judge against Democratic incumbent Justice (and soon-to-be-Chief Justice) Kitty Kimball in a Baton Rouge-based contest for the Louisiana Supreme Court. Fields put his own interests (and thirst for revenge) ahead of his traditional Democratic Party loyalty by supporting First Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Jefferson Davis Hughes against Kimball. Why? Apparently because Hughes sided with Fields during a successful challenge to Fields' qualifications as a candidate for re-election to the state Senate last year. When the case reached the Supreme Court, Kimball and a majority of her colleagues declared Fields ineligible under Louisiana's constitutionally imposed legislative term limits. In his quest for payback, Fields exposed himself as a self-dealer who is becoming less and less relevant in major elections. Another setback for Fields was the overwhelming re-election of Baton Rouge's first black mayor, Kip Holden, who has clearly eclipsed Fields as the dominant black political player in the Capital City.
7. Developers and Inside Men When promoters of a citywide master plan proposed a City Charter amendment designed to get the City Council out of the business of regulating land use on a case-by-case basis, developers and "government relations consultants" immediately recognized the threat for what it was: an end to zoning by exception. When New Orleans voters narrowly approved the charter change last Tuesday, yet another pillar of the Old Order came tumbling down. The master plan is yet to be written, and no doubt it will face serious legal challenges once it is adopted. But, for now, neighborhoods and advocates of stricter land-use regulations have finally carried the day.
- South Louisiana's recovery was a big winner in last week's elections with Sen. Mary Landrieu, who sits on the Appropriations Committee, returning to Washington and the election of Barack Obama, who is believed to be supportive of stronger flood protection, charter schools, a proposed LSU teaching hospital and neighborhood-based health care.
- Republican incumbents Steve Scalise (left) in the First Congressional District and Charles Boustany Jr. in the Seventh Congressional District held off Democratic challengers to keep their seats.