By Jeremy Alford and Mitch Rabalais
With no real opposition to speak of yet for the fall ballot, and a battle-ready war chest in the wings just in case someone gets froggy in Baton Rouge, Attorney General Jeff Landry has been quietly expanding his political profile some 1,100 miles away in Washington, D.C.
While speculation will always surround Landry’s elected future, which could hypothetically include a bid for governor or U.S. senator in coming cycles, the AG insists he’s simply drawn to national politics and policy; has an applicable background; and, in a way, found himself in the right place at the right time.
“I think a lot of that stems from my time up on the Hill,” Landry, a former Republican congressman, told LaPolitics in a recent interview. “Those relationships certainly continue.”
He most recently participated in a White House roundtable discussion on border security and led a group of his AG counterparts against big tech companies on consumer protection issues. The St. Martin Parish native is also president of the National Assoc. of Attorneys General. He will bring his colleagues from around the county to Lafayette next month for their annual meeting and some Cajun hospitality.
Most notably, Landry privately lobbied several U.S. senators on President Donald Trump’s border security legislation. Landry said he has many close relationships in the upper chamber with former House colleagues, such as U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. “They’ll take the call,” Landry said, referring to himself.
U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, another friend, appeared at a fundraiser for Landry during Washington Mardi Gras, telling donors he wished Landry “could be cloned, so he could be here in D.C. and in Louisiana at the same time.”
Landry’s friendships also extend to the Trump Administration. He enjoys good relationships with Vice President Mike Pence and other former colleagues from the congressional days. Landry was seen lunching with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during Washington Mardi Gras, and he speaks frequently with White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who can manage a decent impression of the AG’s thick Cajun accent.
“A lot of those (House) classmates are either currently in cabinet positions or in the Senate or House in leadership roles,” Landry said. “All of those things, I think, have helped forge an opportunity and a reputation for us to be at the table when important national policy is being shaped.”
The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., even made an appearance at Landry’s infamous gator hunt fundraiser last year. The AG has been a frequent visitor to the White House to attend official events and private meetings. Also, the White House’s official Twitter account and members of the Trump family often retweet posts from Landry’s office.
“When there are issues under which they need an attorney general to be involved, they’ll call us,” he said, adding, “I’ve used it not to my personal advantage, but to the advantage of Louisianans in ensuring that those relationships are leveraged to help Louisiana.”
Political History: How To Get On The House Floor Without Asking
In the weeks before the start of the 1956 regular session, WDSU reporter Bill Monroe desperately wanted to get one of his station’s cameras up to Baton Rouge so he could include footage of the Legislature in his daily reports on the goings on at the Capitol.
Earl K. Long had just been re-elected to a third term in the Governor’s Mansion by one of the largest margins in Bayou State history. Having covered politics for quite a while, Monroe knew that Uncle Earl’s antics would make great TV.
After some pleading, the veteran reporter managed to free a camera from WDSU’s home base in New Orleans. Monroe knew the Legislature well enough to know that if he asked permission to bring his camera on the floor, a member would likely object and his stories would be delayed while debate raged on over the admission of this new technology in the chambers.
“We thought, why don’t we just try not asking anybody’s permission and just go in and set up the cameras,” Monroe later recalled in an interview with the Archive of American Television.
WDSU technicians arrived early in the morning on the opening day of the session, setting up cameras in the center aisles of both the House and Senate chambers. “We were very obnoxious; in the way. We really shouldn’t have been there,” Monroe said.
Lawmakers didn’t object to the cameras on the floor, thinking that WDSU had gotten approval to broadcast the proceedings from the speaker’s office or the governor. “They got the impression that we must have gotten permission from somebody,” Monroe said. “Louisiana turned out to be the only state in the Union that had cameras on the floor of the Legislature that never had permission.”
Parish Clerks Facing Notable Turnover
As much as 22 percent of Louisiana’s elected clerks of court may be retiring next year, meaning there will be several open seats this fall for what has become one of the most coveted local jobs around, regardless of the parish.
State Rep. Andy Anders and Sen. Mike Walsworth, for instance, will be running for clerk positions this cycle in Concordia and Ouachita parishes, respectively.
While both men bring a wealth of institutional knowledge with them in their bids, Debbie Hudnall, executive director of the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association, said the average age of incoming clerks is getting younger. Tracking a similar trend, LaPolitics has reported on the Bayou State’s newest mayors.
There are 12 to 14 clerks who are expected to retire with the end of the current term.
That will translate into a lot of new faces along the local landscape, but will likely fall short of the 25 percent turnover in 2015.
Most of the leading candidates for this year’s open clerk seats, so far at least, appear to be coming from the staff level, such as the second or third in command.
Four Questions For Kyle Ardoin
The average turnout for the recent special elections was just over 19 percent. Did the voter turnout for these races meet, over-perform or under-perform your expectations?
It over-preformed my expectations. We’ve had as low as single digit turnout for similar legislative special elections. So while I always want higher turnout, that turnout was higher than some recent special elections.
While we know that it’s still early, how do you believe that turnout this fall will compare to 2015?
I certainly hope that this fall’s turnout is higher than the 39 and 40 percent turnout we had for the primary and general. The governor’s race should be competitive, and if we have the level of polarization we saw in last fall’s midterm, we could have a much higher turnout. I’d love to see 40 percent turnout be the floor, not the ceiling.
Will there be any changes in the qualifying or election process that candidates need to be aware of heading into the regularly scheduled races this fall?
We are monitoring legislation from the upcoming session, but we are not expecting any major changes to the qualifying or election process.
While everybody is aware of the big-ticket statewide contests, what are some of the more interesting down-ballot races that voters will be deciding on?
Sheriffs, clerks, assessors, and a few district judicial seats will be on the ballot. But I think the most interesting ballot initiative will be the vote on St. George (in Baton Rouge).
Guesstimate: $8 Million Investment For Louisiana
Operatives for the Republican Governors Assoc. tell LaPolitics that Gov. John Bel Edwards will be its “top target” this fall, not that the GOP has many other options. Edwards is the nation’s only Democratic governor up for re-election in 2019.
Some politicos, based on their private conversations, expect the RGA to spend upwards of $8 million in Louisiana. RGA officials, meanwhile, will only say that the coming investment will be “considerable.”
According to Politico, the RGA spent more than $7 million on ads in the Florida governor’s race in 2018. In 2014, the group shelled out $14 million in Michigan, $10 million in Wisconsin and $6.2 million in Arkansas.
The RGA hosted its first Louisiana fundraiser of the cycle at Ralph’s on the Park in New Orleans, flying in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. As the RGA has not yet picked a candidate to back, both Congressman Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone received top billing at the fundraiser.
Louisiana is one of three states that will elect a governor this year, the others being Mississippi and Kentucky. By comparison, 36 states held their gubernatorial elections last year, forcing the RGA to spread around its resources.
“The RGA has already started spending some money here (in Mississippi),” said Adam Ganucheau, who covers state politics for Mississippi Today. For now, Ganucheau said, the RGA has been pushing digital ads attacking Attorney General Jim Hood, the Democratic frontrunner.
They Said It
“This isn’t personal. It’s math.”
—Treasurer John Schroder, on the disagreement over incoming dollars among members of the Revenue Estimating Conference, in the USA Today Network of Louisiana Newspapers
“I mean… How is it not already?”
— State Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, on making “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” the official state song, via Twitter
For more Louisiana political news, visit LaPolitics.com or follow Alford and Rabalais on Twitter via @LaPoliticsNow.