Jeremy Alford Thursday, June 18, 2015 0

Not Settled

Tony Clayton, a special prosecutor for the 18th Judicial District Court, is considering a run for governor as speculation grows about the impact an African-American Democrat would have on the early, all-white field.

“I’m a conservative Democrat,” he told LaPolitics. “I believe in smaller government, I’m pro-life and I’m for traditional marriage. I hunt, and I believe in the second amendment. I also think our oil companies play an important role in Louisiana, and I don’t think we should be trying to run them out of the state.”

Clayton would be a big personality in a big race. A poll is expected to test his name statewide in coming weeks.

The Port Allen resident is already well known in the greater Baton Rouge area for having prosecuted serial killer Derrick Todd Lee, and later co-authoring the book I’ve Been Watching You about his experiences with the case. He’s also the former chairman and a current member of the Southern University Board of Supervisors.

Clayton said he’s always had a passion for public service, but didn’t take the race for governor seriously until donors and supporters started encouraging him to qualify. “I’m flattered, and it’s something I’m talking to my wife and family about,” he said.

Clayton now shares the most prominent question mark in the race with retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who has no party affiliation. Honoré told LaPolitics last month that he was still undecided, but hinted his candidacy was a real possibility.

Played out on the back of an envelope, their entry into the race, either separately or together, would do little to frontrunner U.S. Sen. David Vitter in the primary, analysts say. But it could reopen the runoff scenario and shake up the rest of the field, beginning with state Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, so far the only Democrat polled, and one with a seemingly secure spot in the runoff.

Honoré is nowhere near as moderate as Edwards, and he would cut Edwards off at the far left, whereas Clayton may want to compete against the state rep for part of the party’s base.

“I don’t believe that John Bel Edwards has a lock on black Democrats,” Clayton said. “I believe that they are going to vote intelligently. Even if I don’t run, I’ve never supported John Bel Edwards in the past, and he won’t be one of my candidates.” Edwards didn’t respond to a request for comment.

If Honoré can somehow galvanize the state’s 737,000 no-party voters; and Clayton gets in alongside the general; the question then becomes how does it affect the other established Republicans?

Clayton, though friends with Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, might eat into his black support in the Baton Rouge region, providing some benefit to Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. But it may not be enough to deter from Dardenne’s strong third-place showing in recent polls, which may allow him to climb even higher if Edwards’ share of the vote drops.

Honoré, as an environmental justice candidate, probably wouldn’t shy away from going after Angelle’s close relationship to oil and gas.

Vitter Maintains Lead On Paper

For Vitter, an all-GOP runoff is not as desirable as a classic R vs. D showdown. That’s why the pro-Vitter Fund For Louisiana’s Future super PAC may, sooner rather than later, start propping up Edwards’ candidacy.

The super PAC, which cannot coordinate activities with campaigns and candidates, has already sent an email out offering supportive words for Edwards.

Historic gubernatorial election patterns, which tend to favor underdogs, may not necessarily bode well for Vitter. But the latest poll from Southern Media and Opinion Research shows he would be the heavy favorite if the race were held today. He leads the field with 38 percent, followed by Edwards, 24 percent; Dardenne, 16 percent; Angelle, 5 percent; and undecided, 15 percent.

It’s a bump up from the low- to mid-30s for Vitter, after a string of high-profile endorsements and no real money spent in the field or on TV. He dominates nearly every line in the cross-tabs, with only a few questionable stats.

Vitter tops Dardenne in the Baton Rouge-anchored 6th Congressional District, 30-25, soaking up the hard-right vote in the capital region, which has likely been bolstered by his opposition stance to Common Core (compared to Dardenne’s support).

The case for Vitter is less strong in the broader Florida and River parishes — 25-24. But with a +/- 4 percent margin of error, Dardenne is definitely in the fight on his home turf.

The margin of error could be used in the trial heat as well to take Edwards down four points and Dardenne up four — and suddenly there’s a two-way race for second place.

Such is the case with polls and campaigns; who benefits depends on whom you ask.

Surprisingly, Vitter bests Edwards in the New Orleans-based 2nd Congressional District — but just barely, at 33-32, which the margin of error could sway.

If anything, Vitter may be over-polling with black voters, carrying 16 percent to Edwards’ 52 percent, and 6 percent to 59 percent among black Democrats. Vitter will surely lose numbers in this area, and Edwards will gain. But it’s a portion of the electorate that Dardenne, especially, and Angelle are working to gain ground with.

In every comparison possible, Vitter has a 15- or 16-point gender gap between male and female voters. He runs so solidly among white males, with 55 percent, that none of this may matter, said SMOR partner Bernie Pinsonat. But the goal of his opponents has to be to widen the gap and strengthen female support for their campaigns.

Vitter elbows out Angelle in the 3rd District, 36-13, and in the broader Acadiana region, 35-13, which is an area the senior senator has always run slightly better in than his home base of Jefferson-Orleans.

Vitter actually performs best in wide open north Louisiana, where no candidate has surfaced. He carried 46 percent of the piney north region in the poll, 52 percent of the 4th District and 35 percent of the 5th District.

The SMOR poll used 600 samples and the data were collected May 5-9. A group of subscribers paid for the annual poll, each putting up no more than $2,000 and having no input or advance knowledge of the poll questions, according to Pinsonat.

‘Power To The People’ Bill Rejected

The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee all but ignored a constitutional amendment that would have allowed Louisiana’s citizenry to collect signatures to place proposed law changes on a ballot.

“I just want to give the power to the people,” said Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, author of SB 201.

Gallot said he was challenged by a constituent to bring the bill. Variations of the same idea have been floated, and voted down, in the past. Former Gov. Mike Foster, as a state senator, tried to get it into law, as did late Sen. Ken Hollis, Gallot said.

“If the Legislature won’t stand up to the governor, then maybe the people should be given the power to put an initiative on the ballot,” he added.

The bill was still in a somewhat conceptual phase when it was presented. Gallot invited the committee to build it up before he attached an amendment creating a signature threshold of 5-8 percent for certain electorates.

Numerous business and union groups opposed the constitutional amendment.

“Would you like to voluntarily defer this and work on it for a while?” asked Senate and Governmental Affairs Chairman Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales.

Gallot replied, “I think I’d like to seal my fate today.”

And the committee did just that, without objection.

PACs For Governor’s Race Grow

There’s no shortage of super PACs in this year’s gubernatorial race. Super PACs are the special political action committees that can raise unlimited amounts of money, but can’t coordinate with the candidates and campaigns they’re spending cash on.

These groups are new to Louisiana’s state races. But they’ve had a presence in federal elections for a few years.

Mostly they’ve been set up to support specific candidates for governor, with the fund for Louisiana’s Future, which is backing U.S. Sen. David Vitter, leading the way.

Until now.

A few days ago, a new anti-Vitter super PAC managed by the firm of Ourso Beychok made its debut. It’s called GUMBO PAC, and it kicked things off with a hard-hitting video on its website.

The video links Vitter to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff; couches him as a champion for BP; and zeroes in on the D.C. Madam controversy. The voiceover ends on one line: “Imagine the things you haven’t heard about … yet.”

And there’s more to come, according to PAC director Trey Ourso. “We’re going to educate voters about David Vitter,” Ourso said. “We’ve all been going through this race, and it’s too quiet.”

Ourso said he’s raising money inside and outside the state, and will file a campaign finance report soon with the state Ethics Administration.

Others are also raising money. Louisiana Rising, which is backing Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, has reported $365,000 raised, with almost all of it in the bank. Bill Skelly, executive director of Louisiana Rising, said the total was collected over a three-week period. It marks the beginning of the super PAC’s fundraising. While Angelle will be the group’s primary focus, Skelly said others could benefit as well. “We’re exploring multiple candidates,” he said. “In the coming weeks we’ll also be building out our infrastructure and bringing on more staff.”

A third super PAC called Now or Never—Louisiana has been established to help Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. No figures were readily available in mid-May. Supporters contend it’s still early, and the pro-Dardenne super PAC will have the resources it needs to compete. There’s no 180-day report on file yet for the group.

There’s also no sign yet of a super PAC to prop up state Rep. John Bel Edwards, the lone Democrat, who’s been running second in the polls. However, rumors continue to swirl that one is in the works.

For now, the pro-Vitter Fund for Louisiana’s Future is the biggest game around, with $3.5 million in the bank. A recent email from the super PAC was just as complimentary of Edwards as it was of Vitter.

Sheriffs To Hear From Candidates

Mike Ranatza, executive director of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Assoc., said his membership will gather for their annual meeting in July. Many are looking forward to hearing from the candidates for governor. It’s too early, though, to say whether there will be an actual endorsement, he said.  “But we’ll definitely have that conversation,” he said.

A Continuing Resolution?

When Congress and the president fail to come to a meeting of the minds on a budget bill, a continuing resolution is often passed. This allows the treasury to continue paying expenses for a certain period.

Asked whether the Louisiana Legislature would have a similar option if the session ends before a budget solution, Treasurer John Kennedy crossed his arms and contemplated.

“It’s something we ought to explore,” he said, adding that his department could handle such a directive. “I’d rather have no budget than something that is just slapped together and only gets us through a few months. That would be dangerous and irresponsible. A budget needs to be based on logic, not tremendous fear.”

House Set For More Fiscal Work

Lawmakers can only create new taxes or increase them in odd-numbered years, leaving even-numbered years to host their regular sessions. But a constitutional amendment by Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, would move their fiscal sessions, like the one being held now, to even-numbered years instead.

That means the hectic 60-day fiscal session currently dragging the Capitol through the mud could be repeated again next year. Such a repeat could have the effect of rendering pointless a blanket campaign promise from all the candidates for governor to hold a special session in 2016 to address the budget and tax code.

The flip-flop in Ritchie’s HB 189 was approved without objection by the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee. While one hopes the session will end with a balanced budget, the Washington Parish lawmaker said it’s unlikely to address the structural revenue problems plaguing the state.

“I think from watching this session here that we won’t be able to cure all of our problems,” Ritchie said. “I think we should continue this session next year, as hard as it might be.”

Making the switch would also take lawmakers off the hook for having to vote on taxes just months before they face re-election, which is arguably driving this session as much as any other factor. “When you have an election seven months down the road, it’s tough to make those decisions,” Ritchie said.

If approved by the House and Senate, Ritchie’s constitutional amendment would face voters on the Oct. 24 ballot.

N.O. Mayoral Race Opens Up

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently told the Baton Rouge Press Club he would not be running for governor.

Had he jumped into the contest, it would have opened up a political jazz fest of positioning to replace him in City Hall.

Yet politicos back home didn’t pay much mind to that logic, and the race to become the next mayor, still years away, seems to have been jump-started.

The dark horse, and most surprising possible candidate, is U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite. Those who know him best describe him as politically ambitious. But it’s doubtful he’ll make any public moves this early.

From the New Orleans City Council, LaToya Cantrell, Jason Williams and Stacy Head have their supporters pushing hard already. From the Legislature, Sen. J.P. Morrell has long said he would run for the job when Landrieu moves on. But Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger is interested as well, sources say.

It’s unlikely that both Democrats would end up on the ballot; it’ll be one or the other.

While this puts an end to the Landrieu-for-governor speculation, it starts a new round of cocktail party gossip about how involved Landrieu will be in the upcoming presidential election, and whether a successful Democratic nominee might convince him to head to the Beltway via the Big Easy.

GOP Endorsement Rules Blocked 

At the most recent meeting of the Republican State Central Committee earlier this month, supporters of former U.S. Senate candidate Rob Maness proposed a set of new endorsement rules for the party to follow for the fall elections. They were overwhelmingly rejected.

Maness knows all too well how the party can jump out ahead of a race and endorse a Republican candidate even when there are others in the field. That’s what happened last year when he ran against U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy.

In his run for governor, U.S. Sen. David Vitter no doubt would welcome the same sort of early endorsement, even with Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne positioned to be on the ballot with him.

Supporters of the rule change are expected to try once again to establish a procedure at the next RSCC meeting.

For more Louisiana political news, visit or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.