St. Charles Herald-Guide

Things are heating up in Louisiana politics

Dan Juneau - August 23, 2007

Record setting temperatures buffeted Louisiana last week, driving the mercury past the 100 degree mark. But the thermometer wasn't the only thing heating up in the Bayou State. Storm clouds-literally and figuratively-were enveloping the horizon.

The first major hurricane of the season is barreling into the Caribbean as these words are being written. Early predictions don't have Louisiana in the cross hairs for this storm but it is anyone's guess if a major storm will strike us again as we recover from the twin disasters of 2005. Studies released recently by the Corps of Engineers suggest that Louisiana is not ready to repel the effects of a major storm and may not be so for several more years-if then. The economic and demographic future of Louisiana is, unfortunately, pegged to an appreciable degree on our meteorological fate. That is not a comforting thought.

Political corruption is also kicking up quite a storm in Louisiana this summer. Several public officials have been caught up in corruption investigations by the FBI. Corruption and ethics reform was a major-if unresolved-issue in the last legislative session and will be a subject for much debate in the fall elections. Passing better ethics reforms would be good. Providing for better enforcement of current and future ethics law would be as good or better. And having Louisiana District Attorneys, law enforcement officials, judges and juries put away our corrupt public officials (instead of relying on the feds to do it) would be better yet.

The other significant development heating up is the fall elections. Qualifying for state offices will end in only two weeks. At that point, our choices for governor, other statewide elected officials, and the Legislature will be clear. Yard signs and billboards are starting to dot the landscape. Early television ads have run and more will soon follow. Political mail pieces are hitting mail boxes-warm and fuzzy ones now, much more malicious ones soon to follow. Less visible but equally important, phone lines are buzzing with political polling, giving an early reading on how focused and committed Louisiana voters are on the eve of this important election.

At the moment, the governor's election resembles a horse race with one horse pitted against the rest of the field. Independent polling shows Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal with a significant lead over the other candidates. Predictably, that has resulted in Jindal's opponents all shooting at the front runner in order to try to bring his numbers below the 50 percent mark. Jindal is skipping the early forums and debates and is opting instead to take his campaign directly to voters around the state. So far he is not paying a price for not appearing with the other candidates, but probably cannot avoid doing so once qualifying is over.

The legislative elections will mark a new era in Louisiana since it will be the first election to feature term limits. Approximately half of the Legislature will be freshmen when the new body convenes next year. Early patterns indicate the elections may bring a slightly more conservative House of Representatives and possibly a more liberal Senate. Such a scenario would set the stage for some stormy legislative sessions in the future, regardless of who is elected governor.

The heat will continue to build in Louisiana-in every sense of the word-between now and late September. Our future will be shaped by the weather and the whims of the voters. What we can control, we should approach wisely. What we can't, we should pray brings us no further harm.