Let the word go forth that the torch has been passed to a new generation.
Attorney General Jeff Landry has taken over the PAC that helped engineer the Republican takeover of government in Louisiana. U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who is leaving the Senate in January, turned over to Landry, control of the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority.
LCRM founders include some of the wealthiest businessmen in the state and they want the group to be functioning smoothly before the Legislature convenes in April 2017 to revamp the way the state collects taxes and spends money. Plus, because of term limits, 55 of the Legislature’s 144 seats will vacate in 2019 — and they want the new faces to be conservative ones.
“I answered the call to participate in helping them obtain their goals,” Landry said in an interview last week. “I understand and appreciate what they’ve done. And with Sen. Vitter leaving the Senate, he felt and they felt that they needed someone else to pick up that mantle.”
Twenty years ago, Vitter pressed the Legislature — and the state’s voters — to legally limit how long state representatives and senators could serve. Then, about a decade ago, as the first round of term-limited legislators prepared to cycle out, Vitter approached some of the state’s deepest pockets with the idea of fielding and electing conservative candidates to replace them.
At the time, Democrat Kathleen Blanco was in the Governor’s Mansion and Democrats dominated both chambers of the Legislature as well as the constitutional agency heads elected statewide. Vitter argued that voters’ natural conservative leanings could be harvested by the Republicans and set about doing just that, following a model developed in Texas by then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, of suburban Houston.
The checks came from a couple of dozen big-time GOP givers, like New Orleans developer Joseph Canizaro, and bayou boatmen Gary Chouest, of Galliano, and Boysie Bollinger, of Lockport.
With $1.2 million from LCRM and the help of Terrytown Rep. Jim Tucker, who would become the speaker of the House, Vitter started recruiting candidates and developing a platform of promises. They focused on districts represented by Democrats, but whose voters back GOP candidates in national elections.
The group’s money funded push cards, mailers and robo-calls that attacked the Democratic candidates.
Republicans picked up 10 seats in 2007 in the 105-member House. By early 2011, through party switches and wins in special elections, the GOP controlled both the House and the Senate, and by that fall, the party ran all of state government, which it hasn’t really relinquished despite losing the Governor’s Mansion in November.
Landry, of New Iberia, is an interesting choice to lead the LCRM into a new decade in that he is not the state’s top ranking Republican elected official. Strictly speaking, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, of Belle Chasse, rank higher on the organizational chart.
His most historic moment as a one-term congressman was holding a protest sign during a speech by the president. After becoming attorney general earlier this year, Landry repeatedly has butted heads with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Landry said the first step to resurrecting LCRM glory days will be to raise money. To do that, he will have the help of Kyle Ruckert, Vitter’s top aide.
“As the discussion started, we found that not only those who participated in 2006 were interested in participating again,” Landry said, but “also people who were not involved want to participate as well.”
In addition to running candidates for future contests, particularly in the state Senate, the hope is that current legislators will heed the message as well. “We believe they should be adhering to the conservative message during their legislative term,” Landry said.
Now that the state budget’s deficit crisis has passed, lawmakers are going to focus on stabilizing a budget structure that has led to revenue shortfalls year after year. Even many Republicans say the state gives away too much in tax exemptions, exceptions and other breaks, primarily for the business community. How that system is revamped will have a huge impact on the bottom lines of companies and their executives, as well as everyday taxpayers.
Heading LCRM gives Landry a boost in the 2019 challenge to Edwards’ reelection. But the short-term benefit is the bigger hammer it gives Landry in the Legislature, where his agenda didn’t fare so well earlier this year.
“It’s important to recognize that LCRM is not just Jeff Landry, but a collective group of citizens in Louisiana who that are interested in conservative limited government,” Landry said.
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is email@example.com and he is on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB.