Political attacks, instead of candidate plans for state tourism efforts, are taking center stage in the race for lieutenant governor between incumbent Jay Dardenne and challenger Billy Nungesser.
Dardenne talks of “misrepresentations and outright lies” that Nungesser is allegedly using to try to undermine his conservative credentials. Dardenne says Nungesser is “lying and buying” the election.
Nungesser calls Dardenne “a liar and coward” who allegedly is trying to besmirch Nungesser’s reputation and record as Plaquemines Parish president.
Both are Republicans.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has endorsed Nungesser. Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal has stayed out of the fray.
The election is Oct. 22.
The primary responsibility of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office is state culture, recreation and tourism efforts. The job pays $115,000 annually.
Dardenne has been lieutenant governor for the past 10 months, winning a special election to fill a vacancy created when Democrat Mitch Landrieu became mayor of New Orleans.
Dardenne won a spot in the runoff against several GOP candidates including Roger Villere, chairman of the state Republican Party. Dardenne defeated Democrat Caroline Fayard with 57 percent of the vote in the runoff.
Nungesser endorsed Dardenne in that election, calling him a “strong advocate for good government and fiscal responsibility and investing in our people.”
This campaign, Nungesser calls Dardenne a “career politician” who’s interested only in becoming governor one day.
Dardenne had been secretary of state — the chief elections officer — since 2006 and a state senator with a full-time private law practice prior to that. He was a floor leader for Republican Gov. Mike Foster.
Dardenne said his record and experience through what he calls years of “effective” public service well equip him for the office of lieutenant governor — first in line of succession to the governor.
“I hope that’s what voters will be focused on when they go through all the political rhetoric they are going to see on paid TV,” Dardenne said.
While Jindal denies it, speculation continues that he won’t serve out another full term because of national political aspirations.
Nungesser comes from a politically connected family. His father, the late Billy Nungesser, was chief of staff for Republican Gov. Dave Treen and was later chairman of the state Republican Party.
Nungesser lost his first bid for public office when he ran for state representative years ago. In 2006, he won a close election to become Plaquemines Parish president.
Nungesser began a second term as parish president earlier this year after getting 71 percent of the vote. Within months, Nungesser announced he would challenge Dardenne for the No. 2 spot.
Nungesser campaigns as a “fighter” for the people he represents, using his high-profile role in hurricane and BP oil disaster recovery efforts to underscore his point.
“Look who stood tall for Louisiana,” said Nungesser, who frequently made the national news criticizing federal and BP responses.
“It’s time we elect people who get out there and do the right thing regardless of the consequences in politics,” he said.
Nungesser, tied to offshore drilling-related businesses, has $1.66 million in campaign cash available, including a $1 million personal loan.
Dardenne has raised $636,590 from individual contributors.
Nungesser, like his predecessors, uses Dardenne’s legislative record to allege that Dardenne is pro-tax and pro- abortion.
Dardenne said he voted to renew some taxes and for some fee increases that pay for the cost of services. He said he pushed more than two dozen tax repeals or tax breaks in the state Senate. Among them were elimination of the death tax, gift tax, inventory tax and franchise tax and tax breaks that have brought the film industry to Louisiana.
Dardenne said he is pro-life. The vote Nungesser notes was cast in error and Senate records reflect that, he says.
Meanwhile, Dardenne says voters should know that Nungesser’s administration is under federal investigation related to hurricane recovery spending; that Nungesser personally profited from the BP oil disaster; and Nungesser avoided more than $100,000 in federal taxes.
Nungesser said he is confident that the federal investigation won’t find any wrong-doing. He denies knowing about or benefiting from a deal BP entered into with a marina in which he owns a part-interest. He said his business interests are in a blind trust.
The federal tax lien has been paid, Nungesser said.
The candidates occasionally talk about the lieutenant governor’s job.
Dardenne said there’s been a 5 percent increase in tourism-related jobs since he’s been in office; and he has a plan to build on that progress with the state’s bicentennial in 2012.
Dardenne is now running the tourism office — saving $130,000 by assuming the job of his agency’s otherwise paid tourism chief.
“Tourism is a jobs creator when you do it right,” said Dardenne, who came up with the “Pick Your Passion” theme now in use to promote travel to and within Louisiana.
By getting visitors, “we are going to make Louisiana the place where people want to do business,” he said.
Nungesser said he wants to promote “healthy living” along with tourism. He said he will reach out to tourism experts for advice instead of dictating the travel promotion theme like Dardenne did.
Nungesser said he also would promote growing jobs in-state by doing much like what he’s already done in Plaquemines by getting big firms that use out-of-state vendors to buy in-state, instead.