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Just five House committees in new Congress will have Southerners at the helm
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
WASHINGTON (CFP) — When it comes to Southern clout in the U.S. House, what a difference an election makes.
In the recently departed Congress, with Republicans in control, 13 of the 22 committee chairs hailed from the 14 Southern states; in the newly installed Congress, with Democrats in charge, that number will fall to just five.
Five Southern Republican chairs retired, and one, Pete Sessions of Texas, went down to defeat in November. Those who stayed find themselves in the minority for the first time in eight years.
The switch in control has shifted power from the GOP, in which Southerners made up nearly half of the caucus, to the Democrats, where Southerners only make up a fifth. And that has led to reduced numbers of Southerners among committee chairs.
All five of the committees that will be chaired by Southern Democrats in the new Congress were chaired by Southern Republicans in the last Congress, so there will be no loss of influence on those panels.
Also, the outgoing majority whip, Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana, will be replaced by the incoming majority whip, Democrat Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Both men remain the only Southern members in their party’s top leadership.
But eight other committees that had GOP chairmen will now be headed by lawmakers from outside the region. And that list contains a number of the most powerful and high-profile chairmanships in Washington, including Judiciary, Rules, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Reform.
The five Southern Democratic committee chairmen are John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Budget; Ted Deutch of Florida, Ethics; Bobby Scott of Virginia, Education and Labor; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Homeland Security; and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Science, Space and Technology.
Unlike Republicans, who select committee chairs by voting within the caucus, Democrats use seniority. All five of the Southern Democrats ascending to chairmanships had been the ranking Democratic member when Democrats were in the minority.
Scott, Thompson and Johnson, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are among eight new chairs who are African American or Latino. In the departing Republican Congress, all of the chairs were white, and 20 were men.
Southerners will make up a slight majority within the Republican caucus in the new Congress, which is reflected in the GOP’s new committee leadership. On 14 of the 22 House committees, the ranking Republican in the new Congress will be from the South.
Among the notable newcomers to that group are Kay Granger of Texas, who will be ranking member on Appropriations, and Doug Collins of Georgia, on Judiciary–the committee that would handle any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
Six Southern Republicans who had been chairs of their committees will continue as ranking members in the new Congress–Mike Conaway of Texas, Agriculture; Mac Thornberry of Texas, Armed Services; Steve Womack of Arkansas, Budget; Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Education and Labor; Phil Roe of Tennessee, Veterans’ Affairs; and Kevin Brady of Texas, Ways and Means.
In addition to Granger and Collins, five other Southern Republicans were also newly named as ranking members–Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Financial Services; Kenny Marchant of Texas, Ethics; Mike Rogers of Alabama, Homeland Security; Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Rules; and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Science, Space and Technology.
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Kennedy would have been formidable obstacle to re-election of Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator John Kennedy will not run for Louisiana’s governorship in 2019, opting not to make what would have been a formidable challenge to Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards’s prospects for re-election.
“It is such an honor to represent the people of Louisiana in the United States Senate. Right now, that’s where I think I can do the most good,” he said in a December 3 statement announcing his decision.
The outspoken Kennedy also offered a blistering critique of the condition of state government back in the Pelican State.
“I hope someone runs for Governor who understands that Louisiana state government does not have to be a big, slow, dumb, wasteful, sometimes corrupt, spend-money-like-it-was-ditchwater, anti-taxpayer, top down institution,” he said.
“I love Louisiana as much as I love my country, and the people of my state deserve a state government as good as they are.”
Kennedy, who has won six statewide elections, was the most prominent name among Republicans considering the governor’s race, and his decision not to run is good news for Edwards, who is trying to win re-election as a Democrat in an increasingly Republican state.
The only Republican in the race so far is Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone. U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham of Alto has also said he is considering entering the contest and will announce his decision by January 1.
Kennedy, 67, was elected to the Senate in 2016 on his third try after a long career in state politics. He spent 17 years as state treasurer and served in the administrations of governors Buddy Roemer and Mike Foster. He switched parties from Democrat to Republican in 2007, while treasurer.
During his time in the Senate, Kennedy has become known as one of the chamber’s most quotable members, offering often blunt and colorful analogies.
He once described Facebook’s behavior as “getting into the foothills of creepy,” and after sexual harassment charges rocked Hollywood, said that he didn’t know how movies were getting made “because it looks like they’re all busy molesting each other.”
Taking issue with the practice of credit reporting companies to charge consumers for protecting their information, Kennedy said, “I don’t pay extra in a restaurant to prevent the waiter from spitting in my food.”
Edwards, 52, won the governorship in 2015 by defeating then-U.S. Senator David Vitter, and is the only Democrat to hold a governorship in the Deep South. Kennedy was then elected to Vitter’s seat.
In the 2015 campaign, Edwards benefited from the unpopularity of the outgoing Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, as well as personal issues surrounding Vitter, who publicly admitted to patronizing prostitutes.
This time around, Republicans will make Edwards’s record the issue, including tax hikes and Medicaid expansion that he pushed through the legislature and a controversial program to reduce prison sentences for non-violent offenders.
In Louisiana, all candidates for governor run against each other in a so-called “jungle” primary in October, with the two top vote-getters advancing to a November runoff if no one gets a majority. The Republican field will most likely be competing for the second spot against Edwards.
Louisiana is one of four states that elect governors in off years. Neighboring Mississippi will also have a governor’s election in 2019.
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Effort to oust official overseeing investigation of 2016 Russian election meddling fizzles after opposition from House leaders
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Four Southern U.S. House members are part of a group of 11 Republicans who introduced articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the official overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — only to back down after the plan ran into opposition from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders.
Now, instead, the group will seek to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress if the Justice Department does not fully comply with requests for documents about the Russia probe.
U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina was one of the primary sponsors of the impeachment resolution filed July 25, along with Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. Three other Southern members — Jody Hice of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee — signed on as co-sponsors.
However, the impeachment resolution was tabled the next day, after Meadows and Jordan met with House GOP leaders, including Ryan, who had said he did not support Rosenstein’s impeachment and would not bring it forward for a vote.
The congressmen who pushed the impeachment are all members of the Freedom Caucus, a group of about three dozen of the most conservative House Republicans that emerged in 2015 out of the Tea Party movement.
Members of the caucus have been among President Donald Trump’s strongest defenders in Congress — and among the harshest critics of Mueller’s investigation of possible coordination between Russian agents and Trump’s campaign, which the president has dismissed as a “witch hunt.”
The impeachment articles fault Rosenstein for not producing documents subpoenaed by a House committee and for approving a warrant request for surveillance of Carter Page, who was a national security adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign.
In a joint statement with Jordan and the other co-sponsors, Meadows said Rosenstein — who has been overseeing the Mueller probe since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after acknowledging contacts with the Russian ambassador — “has made every effort to obstruct legitimate attempts of Congressional oversight.”
“The stonewalling over this last year has been just as bad or worse than under the Obama administration,” he said. “It’s time to find a new Deputy Attorney General who is serious about accountability and transparency.”
Meadows represents North Carolina’s 11th District, which takes in the state’s far western panhandle.
Hice, who represents the 10th District in east-central Georgia, decried “a culture of stonewalling and misdirection” that he said has “permeated the highest levels” of the Justice Department and the FBI.
Gaetz, who represents the 1st District that in the western Florida Panhandle, said the request to put Page under surveillance was “likely improper” and that Rosenstein’s actions have “weakened Americans’ faith in the intelligence community and in seeing justice served.”
DesJarlais accused Rosenstein of refusing to produce documents “because they implicate top Department of Justice and FBI officials, including himself.”
“His own role in fraudulent warrants and wiretapping the President’s campaign is a major conflict of interest that renders him unfit to oversee the Special Counsel or DOJ,” said DesJarlias, who represents the 4th District in south-central Tennessee.
Rosenstein and the Justice Department have not commented on the impeachment articles.
While Ryan and other GOP leaders were cool to the idea of impeaching Rosenstein, the effort did get support from the highest-ranking Southerner in the House GOP caucus — Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who told Fox News that “putting impeachment on the table is one more tool” to get the Justice Department to provide documents.
Scalise, who represents the 1st District in suburban New Orleans, is reportedly considering a bid to succeed Ryan as speaker after he retires in January — a contest in which members of the Freedom Caucus will play a key role.
But another Southern Republican — U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida — had harsh words for the impeachment effort, taking to Twitter to denounce it as a “reckless publicity stunt.”
“No different from Dems who filed articles of impeachment against the President some months ago. What a sad, pathetic game of ‘how low can you go?'” Curbelo said.
Curbelo, who represents a South Florida district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, is considered one of the most endangered House Republicans in the 2018 cycle.
President’s attorney endorses challenger who employs his new girlfriend; Trump tweets support for incumbent
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
LAFAYETTE, Louisiana (CFP) — Rudy Giuliani is intervening on behalf of a challenger in a Louisiana congressional primary, tangling his politics with his love life in an episode that has angered state GOP leaders and prompted President Donald Trump to take sides against his own personal attorney.
The drama is taking place in Louisiana’s 3rd U.S. House District, which covers the Acadiana region in the state’s southwestern corner.
The incumbent Republican, freshman U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, is a former sheriff’s deputy who gained national fame as the “Cajun John Wayne” after appearing in Crime Stoppers videos that went viral online. He is being challenged in the state’s all-party jungle primary by eight candidates, including Republican Josh Guillory, a Lafayette attorney.
Jennifer LeBlanc, a GOP fundraiser in Louisiana, is working for Guillory. She is also Giuliani’s new girlfriend — or, as he described it to the New York Daily News, “We are dating, however not that advanced yet.”
And there is one more wrinkle: LeBlanc worked for Higgins until switching horses, without explanation, last year.
Giuliani is scheduled to head a June 25 fundraiser for Guillory in Lafayette — news that has irritated Louisiana Republican leaders who support Higgins’s re-election, according to a report in Politico.
To counter the perception that Trump had anything to do with Giuliani’s support of Guillory, Higgins got an audience at the White House, which was followed by an endorsement offered by the president’s re-election campaign. However, Trump stopped short of offering him the holy grail of a coveted endorsement tweet.
LeBlanc, who worked for Giuliani’s ill-fated 2008 presidential campaign, released a statement to Politico saying that she “ended work with Congressman Higgins, and later began work with Josh Guillory, well before I began spending part of my social life with Mayor Rudy Giuliani.”
“These three decisions in my life were made for very different reasons, and are independent of each other,” she said.
Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City who has been married and divorced three times, has led a colorful love live. While still married to wife No. 2, Donna Hanover, he began seeing wife No. 3, Judith Nathan, an affair that played out in the New York tabloids in 2000 and 2001.
He and Nathan married in 2003. She filed for divorce in April.
Giuliani denied to the Daily News that his relationship with LeBlanc precipitated his divorce from Nathan, saying the two did not begin seeing each other until May.
Under Louisiana’s unusual primary system, all nine candidates in the 3rd District will compete in November, with the top two finishers advancing to a December runoff if no one captures a majority.
Higgins and Guillory are the only Republicans running, which makes a runoff more likely if the GOP vote is divided.
Even with LeBlanc’s help, Higgins so far enjoys a 3-to-1 fundraising advantage over Guilllory.
Trump accelerates Republican shift in counties named for Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee loom large as icons of the Southern Confederacy, so much so that 11 Southern counties and one Louisiana parish bear their names. But if these lions of the South are aware of what is happening in their namesake counties today, they may be rotating in their graves.
Changes in presidential voting in these counties over the past 40 years illustrate just how far the Black Republicans against which Lee and Davis fought are now transcendent—and the alarming (for Democrats) degree to which white Southerners have forsaken their traditional political roots.
Of course, the South’s march toward the GOP is not news. Today, the term “Solid South” has an entirely different connotation than it did during the days of FDR or Lyndon Johnson. However, these namesake counties do provide a window into how these shifts in party preference have occurred over time and the role that race played in them.
The 2016 presidential results also show that the Republicanization of the South is accelerating in these counties that bear the mark of Southern heritage, which bodes ill for future Democratic prospects.
In 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter became the first Southerner to win the White House since Zachary Taylor in 1848, he carried nine of the 12 Davis and Lee counties. By 1992, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush were splitting them six-to-six.
By 2000, Republican George W. Bush had flipped nine of the 12 namesake counties his way; his average share of the total votes cast for the two major party candidates in those counties that year was an impressive 64 percent. But in 2016, Trump trumped the younger Bush, carrying those same nine counties with an average of 70 percent of the two-party vote.
In 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford’s share of the two-party vote topped 50 percent in just three namesake counties (in Florida, Alabama, and Kentucky). But by 2016, Trump’s share of the two-party vote was more than 50 percent in nine counties and parishes; above 60 percent in eight; above 70 percent in four; and above a whopping 80 percent in two (Georgia and Kentucky).
The most dramatic changes were in Jeff Davis County, Georgia, where native Georgian Carter carried 79 percent of the vote in 1976 and Trump won 81 percent in 2016, and Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, where Carter won 62 percent and Trump 75 percent. However, even in majority black Lee County, Arkansas, Trump’s 16-point loss in 2016 was less than half of Ford’s 38-point defeat.
In addition to Lee County, Arkansas, the only namesake counties Trump lost in 2016 were Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi, and Lee County, South Carolina, which are also majority black. However, even in these three counties, Trump carried a larger share of the two-party vote in 2016 than Mitt Romney did in 2012.
In fact, Trump improved on Romney’s result in 11 of the 12 namesake counties, save only Jeff Davis County, Texas, where Trump had to settle for merely matching Romney’s total.
The results in these namesake counties over time also illustrate the role race has played in the political realignment of the South.
In all seven of the overwhelmingly white namesake counties, the Republican share of the two-party vote was higher in 2016 than in 1976, by an average of 29 percent. Trump did better than Romney by an average of 4 percent.
By contrast, in majority-black Lee counties in Mississippi and South Carolina, the Republican two-party share fell by an average 2.5 percent from 1976 to 2016, but Trump outperformed Romney by the same 2.5 percent. These results indicate that the white Southern shift to the Republicans appears stronger than the corresponding black shift to the Democrats.
This is borne out by the results in Lee County, Arkansas, which has the smallest African-American population of any of the majority-black namesake counties (55 percent). There, the Republican share of the two-party vote actually climbed 11 percent between 1976 and 2016, and Trump beat Romney’s total by 5 percent.
Two of the namesake counties—Lee County, Florida, and Jeff Davis County, Texas—are outliers in that they have significant Latino populations. The Republican share of the two-party vote in both of those counties was higher in 2016 than it was in 1976, but Trump’s results were down from the numbers put up in 2000 and 2004 by George W. Bush, who, for a Republican, ran strongly with Latino voters.
The results in the namesake counties also illustrate the mountain which Democrats need to climb if they are to reduce Republican hegemony in the South.
The Democratic base once included small towns and rural areas across the Southern landscape, as well as urban areas. In 2016, Democrats still held the cities (with newfound and welcome signs of life in suburban Atlanta and Houston) and the mostly small rural counties with majority black populations, such as the namesake counties in Arkansas, Mississippi and South Carolina. Democrats also do well in college towns such as Athens, Georgia, and Gainesville, Florida.
But Democrats’ failure to compete for the votes of small town and rural white voters is what is killing them electorally, as the results in the Davis and Lee namesake counties without black majorities vividly illustrates.
Only one of these namesake counties is urban—Lee County, Florida, which includes Fort Myers—and Lee County, Alabama, contains Auburn University. The rest of these counties and parishes are all rural, white areas where Messrs. Davis and Lee are no doubt remembered fondly and Jimmy Carter ran reasonably well—and where Hillary Clinton couldn’t get elected dog catcher if she handed out $20 bills at the polling booth.
As a barometer of the past, these namesake counties illustrate how far Democrats have fallen in their former strongholds. But if Trump’s improved results over Romney’s are a barometer of the future, the bottom may not yet have been reached.