Making sense of the 6th Congressional District race is a bit of a challenge.
Beyond the Edwin Edwards show, there are a dozen other candidates, each trying to carve out a piece of turf. Nine are Republicans, which alone makes them far more marketable than the Democratic ex-governor in the conservative district. All are talking tough about the Affordable Care Act, illegal immigrants, the debt, gun rights and regulation. So how to tell them apart?
If Garret Graves has a niche, it’s that he’s the insider in the crowd, the one who knows what Congress — and a single, junior member — can realistically do because he’s been there.
Graves, a first-time candidate, has worked for former U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin and former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, and for a committee that included U.S. Sen. David Vitter. Most recently, he managed Gov. Bobby Jindal’s coastal restoration authority, where he made headlines by fiercely opposing the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s big lawsuit against oil and gas companies and where he earned admirers for his oversight.
One sign of his standing among those closely involved in the issue is a long list of endorsements from parish presidents across coastal south Louisiana.
“Every time there was an issue, for drainage, for coastal erosion, he was side by side with us,” said St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre, a Democrat who organized the group on Graves’ behalf.
Another sign is his eye-opening fundraising take. As of early August, Graves had raised nearly $875,000, about twice as much as his nearest competitor. The list of contributors includes lobbyists, GOP bigwigs and executives from Louisiana’s biggest industries. Graves has $5,000 from the Koch Industries PAC and another $5,000 from the Environmental Defense Fund PAC, which together explain the breadth of his support, even if they seem to cancel each other out policywise.
At least one high-profile member of Jindal’s circles, go-to lawyer Jimmy Faircloth, has contributed, although the governor himself isn’t on board.
Asked about their relationship, Graves had this to say: “The governor and I have a mutually respectful relationship in regard to the issues that I was responsible for — hurricane protection, coastal restoration, oil spill. I would put that record of success up against any other period in history.”
Of course, being an insider isn’t always an easy selling point in today’s environment and among voters who are suspicious of government. The Graves campaign is attempting to strike a tricky balance — or have it both ways — between hot-blooded ideology and clear-eyed pragmatism.
His television ads include the typical grandiose promises to repeal President Barack Obama’s agenda and reduce the size of government.
“Washington has a spending problem. I’ll solve it,” he declares in one recent commercial.
Yet he also points out that ideas aren’t enough, that Congress runs more on relationships, procedural finesse and incremental change.
He’s striking a tricky balance on policy too, including on the hot-button issue of climate change. While one of his opponents, state Rep. Lenar Whitney, has made national headlines by insisting climate change is a “hoax” — that’s a topic for another day — Graves acknowledges that sea level rise is a concern, one that’s built into the coastal plan he oversaw for years.
“You want to take your thermometer, I’ll take a ruler,” he said, referring to Whitney’s viral video on the subject. “To say that it’s not happening while we’re watching it is not in the best interest of the people we’re supposed to be representing.”
But what, if anything, should Congress do about it?
Here Graves is as skeptical as many of his fellow Republicans about policies to reduce the output of greenhouse gases. He argued that scientists have not nailed down the role that natural, rather than man-made causes, play in long-term variability. And he said the potential economic impact of some proposed solutions would be “profound.”
If he were in Congress, he said he’d favor consumer and market-based incentives — “I am all for energy-efficiency, energy conservation” — but not mandates that wouldn’t pay off for 50 years or more.
“I’ve been neck-deep in this stuff,” he said’ “I don’t think it’s the right approach right now.”