By Jeremy Alford and Mitch Rabalais
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise has been breaking Capitol Hill fundraising records this election cycle and filling his war chest at a rate that most candidates can only dream of.
According to the whip’s re-election campaign, Scalise has raised more than $15 million this cycle, bringing in $4.8 million during the third quarter alone.
By the campaign’s count, in the last three months, he has participated in more than 100 fundraising events for individual candidates, his leadership fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
With his huge national profile, Scalise, a Republican from Jefferson Parish, has been bringing in cash from all 50 states, in addition to his solid Bayou State base of donors.
The whip’s plentiful campaign kitty is not only beneficial for him, but also for the House Republican membership that he could come to lead.
So far this cycle, Scalise has given $5 million to the NRCC, helping to boost vulnerable candidates across the country as the GOP is desperately trying to defend its majority.
Ward’s Waves In The Senate
State Sen. Rick Ward, R-Maringouin, has been dropping into Senate districts across the state to provide friendly waves and hellos to his colleagues. The in-person visits are notable as the term winds down and the body looks toward the election of a new president in 2020.
“I want to make sure we have a cohesive group of people in place for next term. We all do,” said Ward, who’s expected to be a candidate for the upper chamber’s gavel-to-get. “The most senior members will have just eight years under their belts next term unless they crossed over from the House.”
Ward said he’s endeavoring with his Senate counterparts to find “pragmatic and accountable” avenues for adapting to that sea change and working with the House.
From a dossier standpoint, he has youth, religious credits and a GOP label working for him. But he hasn’t publicly tipped his hat. “I’m focused on my re-election,” he said.
Also expressing interest or expected to run are state Sen. Bret Allain, Sharon Hewitt and Ronnie Johns.
Political History: The Grocery Bag That Campaigned
One of the Bayou State’s most legendary forms of political advertisement — until 1997, at least — couldn’t be found on television or the radio or billboards. Instead, it was a simple, brown paper grocery bag.
Starting in the 1970s, New Orleanians brought home their groceries every fall in paper sacks with big political advertisements printed on the side. They all came from the same place — the Schwegmann chain of supermarkets, which was the ultimate shopping destination for “making groceries” in the Crescent City.
It’s nearly impossible to exaggerate how much of an institution the Schwegmann brand was in New Orleans at the time. In the era before Wal-Mart and Costco, it was the region’s first mega-store, offering everything shoppers needed under one roof. It was a local chain stocked with Louisiana products at prices that were unmatched.
“It was the breadbasket of the working people, the cheapest place in town for shrimp and okra and Camellia red beans,” wrote the New York Times in 1996.
John G. Schwegmann, the chain’s founder, was an astute businessman with a taste for politics. Even though managing his grocery empire was a full-time job, Schwegmann wasn’t just content with cutting checks for candidates. He wanted to be a political player himself.
He had near-universal name recognition, and was associated with a brand beloved by a vast majority of the public. But while he was a groundbreaker in business, Schwegmann’s political skills often left much to be desired. He ran unsuccessfully for Jefferson Parish president, Congress and governor. He did win seats in both houses of the state Legislature, but was largely ineffective as a lawmaker.
According to The People’s Grocer, with Schwegmann, the line between his grocery stores and political apparatus was always a bit blurry. In the beginning, he would use space in his weekly store circulars as position papers, writing about his thoughts on political issues. In Schwegmann’s view, there was no reason to waste money on mailers when you already sent something out weekly to every resident of Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes.
As time progressed, Schwegmann took it a step further. He made endorsements in big races and then printed ads for his preferred candidates on the side of each bag that his customers used. “Every customer will take home Mr. Schwegmann’s advice on what to do in this election,” said columnist James Gill at the time.
The idea stuck, and political ads continued to appear on Schwegmann bags until the chain went out of business in 1997.
Parish Presidents Are On The Ballot, Too
Candidates for parish presidencies are reaching out to voters with increased engagements in a handful of parishes, including Pointe Coupee, West Feliciana and Plaquemines.
According to the secretary of state’s office, only 24 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes elect a chief executive. Thirty-nine have either a police jury or parish commission, while Orleans has a mayor and city council act as the de facto parish government.
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said the presidential role is concentrated almost exclusively south of Interstate 10. That means Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafourche, Lafayette, Livingston, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes. Only one parish in north Louisiana, Natchitoches, elects a president.
Making Major Moves
It’s a historic election in Pointe Coupee, as voters are selecting their first parish president after abolishing the police jury in a 2016 referendum.
It’s a two-man contest, with Rep. Major Thibaut facing off against Mike Cashio, a former parish constable and cattle farmer. Thibaut, who is term-limited, expressed his interest in the race early, leading one fellow Ways and Means committee member to jokingly refer to him as “Mr. Parish President” during a hearing.
By all indications, Thibaut is the clear favorite. According to campaign finance reports, he has nearly $160,000 on hand, having built a sizable war chest by virtue of being unopposed in his last two races. It also is worth nothing that Thibaut’s House district encompasses all of Pointe Coupee, giving him the added advantage of parishwide name recognition.
The Perez Parish Presidency
A race with the confluence of a son seeking his father’s old job, political infighting and a rematch with a foe from a pervious campaign can only mean one thing — it’s election time in Plaquemines Parish.
Politics has been a wild and ambitious game of hardball down in the marshes at the end of the Mississippi River. This is especially true when it comes to who fills Leander and Chalin Perez’s old seat as the chief executive of Louisiana’s largest parish.
Incumbent Parish President Amos Cormier III is seeking a full term in the top spot, having won the special election to succeed his late father in 2016. Cormier will be facing off against Kirk Lepine, the parish councilman who he defeated in a runoff two years ago, and Burghart Turner, a former parish councilman who is making his third try for the seat.
All three candidates are recognized parishwide by virtue of waging earlier campaigns for parish president. That being said, it’s safe to assume that Cormier is this race’s frontrunner. He has the power of incumbency in addition to a war chest of nearly $120,000. By comparison, both Lepine and Turner’s reports show them with less than $10,000 in their campaign kitty.
This race has already gotten heated somewhat, with Lepine attacking Cormier over the delay in construction of athletic facilities. In addition, the parish council also has considered contempt charges against Cormier over his office’s slow transition to a new headquarters in Belle Chasse.
For his part, the incumbent is not going negative yet, instead focusing his ads on the projects he has undertaken since assuming office.
— The governor’s office will be seeing some staff shuffling, as special assistant Micah Cormier moves into a new role as press secretary. Cormier will be taking up new duties in addition to his current work as JBE’s “body man.” Speechwriter Lauren Leist will likewise be moving into an expanded role in the press shop as the new deputy director of communications.
— The 2019 race for sheriff is already on in St. Tammany Parish. Incumbent Sheriff Randy Smith kicked off his re-election campaign, while Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz formally announced his candidacy.
— Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain traveled to Washington to lobby U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for federal assistance for the state’s soybean farmers.
They Said It
“They are solely trying to create baloney.”
— Interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, on his opponents, at the Press Club
“Here’s some mayo for that baloney.”
— Rep. Rick Edmonds, responding to Ardoin, at the Press Club
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.