Leave it to Louisiana politics to transform the most apolitical statewide office into a hotbed of gubernatorial intrigue.
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s chances to retain his job in a special election Nov. 6 suffered a blow this month when the state’s chief procurement officer Paula Tregre rescinded a controversial $95 million contract his office awarded. The deal would have launched replacement of voting machine systems statewide.
Jumping on the news, Republican Ardoin’s opponents insinuated that he had acted to steer the contract to invalidated winner Dominion Voting Systems. In reality, the ruling faults him on technicalities. The office he headed filed incomplete requirements for bidding, and the deciding panel he appointed failed to notice the winning bid contained a piece of equipment without required national certification. It essentially was identical to one that did.
In other words, redoing the process without these problems almost certainly would declare DVS the winner going away, as happened previously. But that would mean defeat for the chief plaintiff, Election Systems & Software, which has close connections to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.
ES&S employs lobbyists Courson Nickel, whose principals are allies of Edwards. Tregre’s Office of State Procurement lies within the Division of Administration, headed by Edwards’ right-hand appointee, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne. And although Tregre is a classified employee insulated from political pressure that could have influenced her decision, Dardenne hears appeals of her rulings.
So, don’t expect Dardenne to affirm the DVS appeal of this matter. Do expect his rejection not only to keep ES&S in the running but also to permit further exploitation of the issue created by Ardoin’s bungling. That aids the electoral fortunes of the Republican SOS candidate who would likely most benefit Edwards — state Rep. Julie Stokes.
As the lone statewide elected Democrat, Edwards needs all the friends in high places he can get to help him advance his policy agenda and to gain reelection next year. He doesn’t want an SOS in the mold of Republican Treasurer John Schroder, who since his special election win last year has ceaselessly criticized Edwards on budgeting.
Ardoin — himself formerly a Democrat and years ago a lobbyist who aided Democrats — crossed up Edwards earlier this year by joining a razor-thin Bond Commission majority against Edwards to disallow contract bids from banks that discriminate against gun owners, sellers, and manufacturers. As a Democrat seems unlikely to win the SOS race in a runoff with a Republican, Edwards will probably prefer that the most agreeable GOP candidate makes it to the next round.
That would be Stokes, whose voting record on size of government issues as captured by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry scorecard actually is hardly less supportive of smaller government than the other Republican candidates with legislative service. However, on some big measures to expand government, she has joined Edwards on the political left. For example, had the clock not run out on a special session this summer, a vote she proposed then to reinstate part of an expiring sales tax, backed by Edwards, if passed would have raised taxes an extra $60 million over what was enacted in the following special session.
Polling shows the more moderate Ardoin and Stokes ahead of three other GOP candidates competing for more staunchly conservative voters. Thus, whatever makes Ardoin look bad helps Stokes the most.
This leaves conservatives with a tough choice: vote for someone other than Ardoin and risk putting the most Edwards-friendly Republican in office, or vote for an incumbent over whom doubts linger about his conservatism and competence.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com and writes about Louisiana legislation at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email email@example.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.