With no big-name candidates for statewide office, Louisiana Democratic Party leaders Saturday turned their sights on legislative races and rebuilding in the face of Republican gains.
“This is not the time for Democrats to weep, wail, tear their shirts off or paint their faces with sorrow,” state party Chairman Claude “Buddy” Leach told a subdued audience of party officials.
Party members listening to Leach’s remarks had gathered for the first time since Democrats failed to field well-known, well-funded candidates to stand election Oct. 22 in any of the statewide races and many of the contests for the 144 legislative seats.
Three of the four lesser-known candidates, who signed up as Democrats earlier this month to challenge the re-election of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, addressed the party’s governing board in the Louisiana House Chamber.
State Central Committee leaders made no endorsements. Leach cited party rules that he said prevent choosing a standard-bearer when the race has multiple Democratic candidates.
Appearing were Tara Hollis, a special-education teacher from Haynesville; Androniki “Niki Bird” Papazoglakis, of Baton Rouge and policy director of a nonprofit that addresses domestic violence; and teacher-minister Ivo “Trey” Roberts, of Gretna, who calls himself a conservative “tea party Democrat.”
Hollis criticized Jindal for poor treatment of state employees, schoolteachers and college students. “We will not survive another four years of this administration,” she said.
Papazoglakis complained about Jindal’s political “rhetoric” and his failure to compromise.
“It’s time for leadership in Louisiana (instead of) using Louisiana for the next gig, the next job,” said Roberts.
Another gubernatorial candidate, Cary Deaton, a lawyer from Metairie, did not attend.
“Democrats need to be heard in this election cycle,” Leach said. “This is the time we must stand up and articulate plainly our values.”
Leach and others said they were not going to let Jindal’s re-election bid go by without his record being challenged.
Leach said the party would finance televised advertising that would spotlight Jindal actions that have hurt the poor and middle class, including college tuition increases.
Leach and others encouraged members of the party’s governing body to get active and help Democratic candidates.
The Democratic Party, which had dominated Louisiana politics for more than a century, recently lost control of both chambers of the state Legislature. All seven Louisiana government officials elected statewide are now Republican, as are six of the seven U.S. representatives and one of the two U.S. senators.
Leach said grassroots support and fundraising help are key to combating the large sums of money that Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., are helping raise to elect favored GOP candidates.
State Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, said successes may not come at the statewide level in fall elections.
“But we have candidates who are Democrats and expressing opportunity, equity, fairness and justice,” Peterson told delegates. “You are not going to hear the other party talking about those things because it’s not in their heart.”
Peterson urged the party faithful to help candidates in legislative races. Some incumbent Democrats such as state Sen. Eric LaFleur, of Ville Platte, and state Sen. Ben Nevers, of Bogalusa, are facing stiff re-election challenges, she said.
Adam Eitmann, with the Senate Democratic Caucus, said the Democratic Party finds its future leaders and future candidates for higher office from the ranks of the state Legislature. “If you want a strong Democratic Party, this is where you start it,” Eitmann said.
“We all look like we have lost our last friend,” said David Young, a committee member from Gonzales. “We are down but we are not out. We will come back.”