The Louisiana Democratic Party is dead. Let’s don’t waste time arguing that point. Let’s just admit it and talk about the mystery of how it happened. After all, everyone loves a good whodunit story. With Democratic officials across the state defecting to the Republican Party on an almost weekly basis, the talk on the street among rank and file Democrats is who is responsible for the mass exodus, and there seems to be plenty of blame to go around. Here are the suspects I'm most often hearing.
Let’s start with President Barack Obama and this southern state’s difficulty with race relations. While publicly state politicians focus on differences with his health care and offshore drilling policies, the more racist criticism is left to those who quietly email jokes around about his everything from his religion to his place of birth to his wife. But the end result is that many Louisiana elected officials are just not comfortable being associated with Obama and relate more to the white male conservatives on the national Republican scene.
Next up would be Democratic State Party Chairman Buddy Leach, a likeable man but still a product of a bygone era of good old boy politics. Leach is serving his party for the right reason – he is a populist with a sincere care for helping working people and believes in the Democratic principles. But he also enjoyed the advantage of starting his own elections off with personal funding, so he is not as well versed in how to build support for the state party and a professional, energetic staff to run it, and this is one of the key areas where the state Republicans excel. He also has the unfortunate timing of taking over the chairmanship when much of the damage had been done and there were few Democrats willing to step up with him.
Did former Governor Kathleen Blanco start the slow death of the state party? Possibly. She and husband Raymond “Coach” Blanco never played party politics, building a coalition that included Republican support in her native Acadiana, and she never took any steps to lead the party during her four years as Governor.
What about current Governor Bobby Jindal? He is by far the most partisan Governor we have had in recent history, and he and his staff play politics with appointments, funding and just about everything else. Legislators who want to move up don’t necessarily need his endorsement, which has proved ineffective, but they do need the access and support from the Fourth Floor of the Capital, and it's easier with that "R" behind their names.
Senator Mary Landrieu and her brother, former Lieutenant Governor and current New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, are two of the last standing Democrats to be elected statewide, but neither has ever been able to turn a personal ability to get elected into general support for the state party. Both are traditional Democrats and white voters who like them overlook that, while those who do not use them to further polarize the electorate. The Landrieus support the party to keep themselves close to Democratic African American voters who are much needed for them to be elected, but have never been able to help build a coalition of white Democrats within the party or to effectively lead the party from their positions as the top elected Democrats in the state.
Ironically, that is primarily because of a feud which did as much to derail the party as any of the above, and that was former Democratic State Party Chairman Chris Whittington’s ongoing fight to hold onto the chairmanship against the efforts of both Landrieus, who tried to bring new leadership in who they felt they could work with when they recognized that Whittington was quite possibly driving the bus off a cliff. For Whittington, moving the party forward ran second to him holding onto the chairmanship, so his focus was on appointing committee members loyal to him to fill vacancies, assuring he had the votes to hold on. It took Leach to negotiate a very public coup d'état which resulted in Whittington finally stepping down to hand the chairmanship over to him, but unfortunately by then, the Landrieus had moved on to focus on their own viability and left Leach holding a bag that contained a fractured state party, the result of that aforementioned bus wreck.
If you have some thoughts on who you think is guilty in this caper, we’re interested in hearing from you. And as always, just whisper in my ear and we’ll keep this between you and me….behind the purple veil.