By Jeremy Alford and Mitch Rabalais
After taking to Facebook to publicly acknowledge that he is considering a bid for lieutenant governor this fall, former Democratic Caucus Chair Gene Reynolds told LaPolitics that he should have a clear resolution on the race soon.
“I need to make a final decision within the next week or two,” he said.
The Democrat from Webster Parish said he has been encouraged to run by members of both parties, including former legislative colleagues who often stop by his Spanish Town home to chat after hours.
While he readily admitted to considering a party switch, Reynolds said that he has yet to decide if he will cross the partisan Rubicon and run as a Republican.
“I seem to have support on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
Reynolds added that he has briefly discussed his deliberations with Gov. John Bel Edwards, a friend from their lower chamber days, but is not seeking counsel from the current occupant of the Governor’s Mansion.
On the fundraising front, Reynolds said that he would kick-start a potential campaign with an influx of personal funds, but was not looking to self-finance the entire bid.
While he did not specifically state how much he would spend, the former lawmaker said, “I would put in whatever it took.”
Reynolds, who briefly led the state parks system under incumbent Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, said that if he were to run, his campaign would focus less on partisanship and personality and more on his plan for a drastic reformation of the state’s number-two job.
“I’m not looking to run against Billy,” he said.
While the lieutenant governor currently heads up the Bayou State’s tourism efforts, Reynolds said that he would want to put the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism under the governor’s office with an appointed secretary, similar to DOTD and the Department of Revenue.
He also sees opportunities to merge other assets into different agencies, such as joining the state parks system with Wildlife and Fisheries’ management areas.
While he acknowledged that he hasn’t decided whether or not to push to abolish the office or create a new set of duties, Reynolds would hope to be able to have his reforms completed by 2023. “I think it is doable in one term,” he said.
DFER Making A Splash
The Louisiana branch of Democrats for Education Reform, the group founded in 2015 by Eva Kemp, is planning to make a splash in the 2019 cycle, playing in numerous legislative races and supporting Gov. John Bel Edwards’ re-election bid.
When it comes to the governor’s race, Kemp said that the pro-education reform group plans to spend a “healthy six figures” in support of the incumbent’s campaign.
“We are all behind John Bel,” Kemp told LaPolitics.
Kemp added that the group is also currently tracking 45 legislative races statewide but is still contemplating decisions on where exactly to get involved. While she primarily works out of New Orleans, Kemp and other DFER leaders have been working since 2017 to recruit candidates in areas such as Monroe, Shreveport and Lake Charles. In addition, DFER is working with other groups who are recruiting candidates, trying to identify contenders who are supportive of DFER’s policy positions.
When it comes to legislative races, the group will be getting involved in both D-on-D races and opportunities to flip seats back to the Democratic Party. Kemp expects DFER to spend significant amounts in selected House and Senate districts, although amounts may vary from race to race.
“We are looking at races where there is an opportunity to play in order to get more DFERs elected,” Kemp said.
Not to be forgotten on the fall ballot, the group also plans to get involved in the two BESE districts with viable chances to elect Democrats.
Political History: John Slidell And The Polk Presidency
Nearly two centuries before a controversial presidential election was investigated for alleged interference and words like “collusion” became part of the political lexicon, one Louisiana congressman used his own creative method to ensure that his preferred candidate resided in the White House.
In the 1844 presidential election, Gov. James K. Polk of Tennessee faced off against U.S. Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky. Polk, a Jacksonian Democrat, played up his rough and tumble image as an outsider from the frontier. Meanwhile, Clay, a Whig, made his case based on his decades of experience in Washington and reputation as the country’s foremost political insider.
In New Orleans, then-Congressman John Slidell was working hard to ensure a Democratic victory in the Bayou State. According to The Political Apprenticeship of John Slidell by Joseph Tregle, the congressman was eager to move up the ladder in Washington and was more than happy to help Polk out if it could further his ambitions too.
With voting only a few weeks away, the national vote appeared pretty evenly split. Louisiana, a swing state, would have the power to tip the election to either candidate.
According to A Perfect War of Politics by John M. Sacher, the state’s geography was a big factor in the contest. Polk had a loyal following in North Louisiana and the Florida Parishes, while Clay had a solid base of support in South Louisiana and New Orleans.
Slidell knew that for Polk to win Louisiana and the presidency, he would have to carry a part of the southern portion of the state. His solution for the problem was simple.
On Election Day, the congressman chartered a riverboat in New Orleans and loaded hundreds of the city’s Irish immigrants on to the vessel. They then traveled downriver to Plaquemines Parish, where everybody disembarked and proudly cast their ballots for Polk.
According to Sacher, Plaquemines had only had 290 residents vote in the 1840 presidential election. However, four years later, Polk carried the parish by 990 votes, also winning the statewide vote in the process.
As for Congressman Slidell, the new president rewarded him with a plum diplomatic post in Mexico.
They Said It
“The best secrets are the ones you never talk about.”
— Rep. Johnny Guinn, R-Jennings, during a legislative committee meeting
“The Chinese say if you sit by the bank of the river long enough, you’ll see the dead bodies of your enemies come floating by, and I did it.”
—Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, on longevity, on WVLA
For more Louisiana political news, visit LaPolitics.com or follow Alford and Rabalais on Twitter via @LaPoliticsNow.