Despite well-funded efforts by the governor and a U.S. senator, Republicans failed to win supermajorities in the Louisiana Legislature during the fall elections.
Incumbents targeted by those efforts say that Louisiana voters don’t want hard partisan politics. A couple also say they want to change Louisiana campaign financial disclosure laws to require more detailed reporting of just who is giving the money.
“I don’t think we should inhibit anybody’s right to free speech,” said state Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte. “At least, if people are going to be saying these nasty and untrue things about you, then they should identify themselves. There has to be some accountability.”
Head of the caucus of Democrats in the state Senate, LaFleur’s re-election campaign was opposed by groups aligned with the state’s top two Republican elected officials — Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter. He said his character and résumé were blasted in unfair portrayals sent to voters’ homes and repeated on radio commercials.
It was not so much the attacks funded by Jindal and Vitter — they were very clear about their opposition — but LaFleur said other third-party conservative groups, whose leadership and funding sources were not readily identifiable, were responsible for the nastiest accusations.
LaFleur won 59 percent of the 32,957 votes cast on Oct. 22 in his re-election bid against Republican Paul “Doc” Miller, a 43-year-old Ville Platte kidney specialist.
The executive director of the state Republican Party said LaFleur won because he has fundraising ability and name recognition, as do many of the Democratic incumbents who fended off Republican tests.
“I’m glad we challenged them and made them spend a lot of resources to defend their record,” Dore said, adding that the efforts would make Democratic legislators “more thoughtful about voting in the future.”
Vitter’s group — the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority — had targeted races involving 10 House seats and four state Senate seats. The LCRM and the Republican Party of Louisiana, with which Jindal worked, raised more than $2 million, according to disclosures filed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
Jindal got involved in 10 of the 19 contested races in the state Senate. In the Louisiana House, Jindal backed candidates in 29 of the 62 contested races. Most of the winning candidates he backed were incumbents.
Jindal characterized the outcome as a great night for conservative candidates.
State Democratic Party Chairman Claude “Buddy” Leach said Democratic legislative incumbents “all survived because the people knew them and knew that the anti-literature mailed and broadcasts about them were not representative of the facts.”
Going into the runoffs, Republicans sit in 24 of the state Senate’s 39 seats. That’s two short of a supermajority.
In the 105-seat Louisiana House of Representatives, GOP members occupy 54 positions, which is one more than is needed to pass a bill, but short of the 70 votes needed when the law or rules call for a two-majority vote.
On Nov. 19, seven runoff races will pit Republicans against Democrats. In an eighth race, the Republican faces a candidate without party affiliation and in the ninth runoff, it’s a Democrat facing a no party opponent.
Former Secretary of State Al Ater, a Democrat who had been a top aide to two GOP statewide elected officials, said that in legislative races, voters often personally know the candidates, who live in the community and make an effort to be involved in neighborhood events.
In House District 28, for instance, Jindal and the Republican Party of Louisiana spent at least $14,000 in an effort to oust Democratic state Rep. Robert Johnson, of Marksville.
Johnson successfully fought the governor’s efforts earlier this year to bring in a private company to run a state prison in Avoyelles Parish. On election night, Johnson drew 63 percent of the vote compared to the 37 percent that Republican Kirby “Coach” Roy III, of Hessmer, received.
Vitter refused comment to The Advocate. Before the elections, Vitter had told reporters that he wanted to exact more conservative rigor from GOP candidates.
“You’re going to have a slightly more conservative House and a slightly more to the center Senate,” said Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum.
Republican State Sen. Dale Erdey, of Livingston, said he was disappointed when Jindal did not endorse him in a re-election challenge against Denham Springs Republican Derek Babcock, who is a Family Forum board member.
“I worked with the governor on most of his reform agenda,” Erdey said. Campaign finance reports also show that Erdey contributed to Jindal’s campaign. “The governor came to my district and bragged about what a good job I was doing and showered me with compliments.”
Though the campaign turned ugly at times, Erdey won with 65 percent of the vote.
But the campaign was costly. Erdey raised $118,231 during the final 30 days of the campaign.
Babcock reported to the Louisiana Board of Ethics that he had raised $79,111, all during 2011. Of that amount, the Republican Party of Louisiana gave Babcock’s campaign $25,000. Companies, PACs and donors associated with Baton Rouge contractor Lane Grigsby gave another $20,000, and construction firms gave a further $9,000, according to campaign finance reports.
Grigsby said Erdey’s votes supported teacher unions.
His group, Baton Rouge Next, produced pink postcards sent to the constituents of state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, D-Baton Rouge, that claim “reckless behavior” by her current and previous husbands. No official claims or ethics violations have been leveled against Dorsey or her spouses. Grigsby’s group also sent fliers to the constituents of state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge.
Both Smith and Dorsey easily won their re-election efforts.
Grigsby, whose name does not appear on the flier but he is listed on state records as the registering agent, said he became involved to change the education system.
“There are going to be some issues that have to be resolved with the Legislature and I believe that both Yvonne and Pat have been at the beck and call of the school boards and the teacher unions,” Grigsby said.
Other incumbent Democrats who survived challenges to their re-elections were state Reps. Neil Abramson, of New Orleans; James Armes, of Leesville; Bernard LaBas, of Ville Platte; and Jack Montoucet, of Scott.
Mark Ballard of the Capitol news bureau contributed to and wrote this report.