Politics

Politics 2003Week of November 24

LOUISIANA POLITICS, YESTERDAY. . .

Although the bulk of national media attention was on Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco‘s narrow win in the race for governor of Louisiana, there were other races of interest in the Pelican State last week. Coupled with Blanco’s election as the first Democratic governor of Louisiana in eight years, the results confirm that the state-alone among those in the former Confederacy never to have elected a Republican senator since Reconstruction and where Democrats still control more than two-thirds of the state legislature-remains the toughest “nut” in the South for the GOP to crack.

The race for lieutenant governor had been decided in the primary a month ago when Democrat Mitch Landrieu, brother and longtime campaign strategist for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D.-La.), rolled up 53% of the vote against five opponents and thus avoided a runoff. The closest competitor to Landrieu was former Rep. (1986-92) Clyde Holloway, a conservative Republican who has flailed in several comeback bids for the House since losing his seat following unfavorable redistricting a decade ago.

Another familiar Republican name in Cajun country ended up in the political junk heap: Suzanne Haik Terrell, state commissioner of elections and losing GOP candidate against Sen. Landrieu last year, sought to turn her support from the close Senate contest into election as state attorney general. She didn’t, as many Republicans blamed Landrieu’s re-election on what they considered a poorly run challenge by Terrell. Moreover, many conservatives have never trusted Terrell for proclaiming herself strongly pro-life in the Senate race after having her name on the host committee for a Planned Parenthood event years before. (Terrell has always maintained that permission for the use of her name was an error by a secretary.) Last week, Terrell went down to defeat by 54% to 46%, losing to Democrat and Arlene’s Parish Sheriff Charles Foti. (The office that Terrell relinquished to run was not filled because, under outgoing Gov. Mike Foster, the position of commissioner of elections was abolished.)

Republicans also felt they had a good chance of winning the office of state insurance commissioner. Incumbent Democrat Jim Brown had been forced to step down after being convicted on corruption charges. His deputy and fellow Democrat, Bob Wooley, seemed a ripe target for Republican Dan Kyle, former state legislative auditor and midwife of numerous corruption probes. But it was not to be: Kyle had, according to one veteran legislature-watcher, “stepped on too many toes” by launching high profile probes of Democrat and Republican lawmakers in Baton Rouge. Many Republicans privately felt that, Kyle’s “Mr. Clean” image notwithstanding, he was out more to make a name for himself than root out corruption. (Kyle had originally started the campaign year as a candidate for governor, but quickly dropped down to running for insurance commissioner.) Wooley won with 58% of the vote.

To no one’s surprise, the lone Republican winner statewide was Louisiana’s “Mr. Republican,” Fox McKeithen, who won a fifth term as secretary of state with 72% of the vote. Interestingly, the most durable of Republican office-holders in the state is himself a convert from the Democratic Party and the son of the late Gov. (1963-71) John J. McKeithen, also a Democrat.

. . . AND TOMORROW?

So what to do with Bobby Jindal? Although there are certainly some Republicans in Louisiana who are disappointed in their standard-bearer because of his losing campaign for governor, it is difficult to find any GOP activist who believes that Jindal-at 32, a “whiz kid,” the son of Indian immigrants, and a former top official under both Gov. Foster and President Bush-will fade into obscurity.

As Gov-elect Blanco prepared to take office in January, speculation that three-term Sen. John Breaux (D.-La.) will leave office next year for a lucrative lobbying job was mounting. With a Democratic governor in Baton Rouge, pundits and pols began to speculate that Breaux might resign from office next year and secure the appointment to the Senate of his friend and fellow centrist Democrat, Rep. Chris John (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 53%).

Whether Breaux resigns or simply serves out his term throughout ’04, conservative Republican Rep. David Vitter (lifetime ACU rating: 83%) has said he will run for the Senate next year if there is an open seat. But there is nothing to keep Jindal, fresh from near-election to the governorship and with a statewide organization in place, from running for the Senate himself.

“And we have a pretty rich history of folks losing the governorship one year and then going on to win the Senate the following year,” noted Lou Gehrig Burnett, editor of the insightful cyberspace political newsletter www.faxnetupdate.com and himself the longtime right-hand man to the late Rep. (1940-76) F. Edward Hebert (D.-La.). Burnett recalled how State Sen. J. Bennett Johnston lost a squeaker of a run-off for governor to fellow Democrat Edwin Edwards in 1971, and then bounced backed a year later to win a Senate seat and serve until 1996. His seat was then won by fellow Democrat Mary Landrieu, Burnett continued, who had-guess what?-lost a bid for governor the year before.

JIMMY QUILLEN, R.I.P.

The grand old man of Tennessee Republicans-and easily, one of the best-liked of that group-died on November 1. Former Rep. (1962-96) Jimmy Quillen, whose 34-year-stint made him the longest-serving member of Congress in Tennessee history, was soft-spoken and always pleasant, but nonetheless compiled a solid conservative record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 86%) as the senior Republican on the House Rules Committee for many years.

One of ten children of a sharecropper, Quillen left school in Kingsport, Tenn. as a teenager to earn extra money for his family. In a story that became legend in his hometown, the young Quillen was fired as an advertising salesman for a local newspaper. Rather than sulk or complain, Quillen launched his own publication, the Kingsport Mirror, and later founded another newspaper, the Johnson City Times. Both publications prospered in the late 1930s and the same publisher who had fired Quillen was, after falling on hard times himself, hired by his discharged employee.

Quillen left the newspaper business to join the U.S. Navy during World War II. Upon his discharge, he started real estate and insurance businesses. In 1954, he was elected as one of a handful of Republicans to the state house of representatives and quickly became minority leader. After Republican Rep. (1920-30, 1932-46, 1950-61) B. Carroll Reece, a close Quillen friend, died in 1961, wife Louise Goff won a special election to succeed him. She strongly endorsed Quillen for the full term the following year. He won handily and never faced a major re-election challenge for the rest of his career.

Although he had little in common with the outspoken younger conservatives who led the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, Quillen nonetheless helped guide key conservative measures-notably the bill to make desecration of Old Glory a federal crime– through the Rules Committee. Quillen also took the lead in opposing federal dollars for the homeless (“I don’t want Congress to create more homelessness on the street. . . Instead of solving the problem, we would make it entirely more complicated”). Media criticism notwithstanding, was vigorous in leading the charge in the 1980s to permit members of Congress to earn greater outside income. When Common Cause head Fred Wertheimer testified before the Rules Committee in 1981 against a proposal repealing the outside income ceiling of 15% of salary, Quillen peppered him with hard questions about his own salary and expenses. Eventually, the House voted to raise the ceiling to 30%, but in 1995, voted to ban outside income for lawmakers.

Quillen, who retired in 1996, was 87.


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