Quin Hillyer: Seeing Red about Black’s endorsement for D.A. in St. Tammany _lowres

Alan Black


The public is sick of two-faced politicians and already skeptical of political endorsements. And the public in St. Tammany and Washington parishes ought to be sick of the ol’-boy network of outgoing District Attorney Walter Reed, now enmeshed in scandal. So the last thing a candidate from that same ol’-boy milieu should want is the endorsement from a fellow pol whose own words show him to be… wel-l-ll… rather untrustworthy.

But Brian Trainor, sheriff’s deputy in St. Tammany and eight-year aide to Reed, is now touting an endorsement from fellow Reed insider (and third-place finisher) Alan Black — even though Black is on tape promising his endorsement to Trainor’s runoff opponent Warren Montgomery.

No matter which of the two finalists, the insider Trainor or the would-be white knight Montgomery, is the best man for the job, this is entertaining to watch — in the same way that old-style Earl Long or Edwin Edwards antics provided fodder for amusement before Louisianans finally figured that governing is serious business.

Montgomery (full disclosure: I worked in semi-association with Montgomery for half a year, 27 years ago), who ran second in a four-way competitive primary, received the endorsement of fourth-place finisher Roy Burns. He had expected Black’s endorsement, too — and for good reason. Right there on Montgomery’s phone answering machine, in rather definitive terms on the night of the election, Black’s voice can be heard pledging his support (in an apparently unsolicited call) to Montgomery if Black failed to make the runoff.

“I just want you to know,” Black said, “that if you somehow get there (the runoff) and I don’t, I want you to know I’ll be with you: me, my supporters, my family, my money, everything.” And: “We’re against two law firms, the sheriff —a big machine, you know. It would be nice to know that we’re all unified, regardless: me, you and Roy, we all know we just can’t let this Trainor kid win.”

Now, though, Black is not only doing nothing to stop “this Trainor kid” from winning, but he’s outright endorsing Trainor to “bring the values of fairness and justice to the job of district attorney.” This is John Kerry-esque, except in reverse: Black was dead-set against Trainor before he was for him.

It sounds more as if the Reed machine, or its other powerful bad-ol’-boy allies, somehow found a way to help Black change his mind. Black followed the next day with a text message to Montgomery sounding less sure of his endorsement, saying “I want to see how bad I am in the red in this race. …”

Why “being in the red” financially should affect an endorsement is beyond me and probably beyond any Louisianans who assumed that politics of the “ American Hustle” sort were relics of a bygone era.

This isn’t to suggest that any money changed hands. But politicos know — as a hypothetical — that political machines can pressure others, who might be inclined to help retire an honest campaign debt, to instead just stay on the sidelines. Even good-government donors can be loath to cross a machine, and losing candidates might fear being left in the lurch.

Such a thing wouldn’t make the losing candidate corrupt but just financially frightened. Still — in a state infamous for giving evidence, as Robert Penn Warren wrote, that “man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud” — this sort of thing appears all too familiarly unappetizing.

Perhaps more to the point is another Penn Warren line: “Politics is a matter of choices, and a man doesn’t set up the choices himself.” At the very least, Black’s phone call, and his subsequent reneging on the same in the context of being financially in the red, suggests that Black himself didn’t feel entirely free to make his own endorsement choice.

Black’s 180-degree turn, without anything approaching adequate explanation, is the sort of thing that makes most people hate politics. And as a reason to take Black’s advice, it’s a very, very thin Reed.

New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is qhillyer@theadvocate.com, and he blogs at blogs. theadvocate.com/quin-essential.