This isn’t exactly the way to boost a candidacy, much less run Louisiana’s Department of State.
For weeks, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin insisted publicly that he would not run in the special election to replace his predecessor, Tom Schedler. Ardoin’s elevation from first assistant happened when Schedler resigned May 8 under pressure from accusations of sexual harassment.
Ardoin was thrust into the story when Schedler’s accuser, through a lawsuit, said Ardoin knew of Schedler’s conduct. Ardoin denied such knowledge.
Then, moments before qualifying closed last month, Ardoin signed up to run for the post. He argued that too many important upcoming initiatives, such as a planned wholesale replacement of voting machines, required an experienced hand at the helm. As my Advocate colleague Stephanie Grace wryly observed, he figured out how to break his first promise the day he started his campaign.
Ardoin had hinted at second thoughts when qualification began, and claimed he only decided to go for it at the last minute. If so, in the next 10 days he would prove himself the world’s quickest fundraiser and campaign organizer, for by the end of the month, more than $87,000 came rolling into his new campaign account.
But the smooth, rapid takeoff faltered when a week later word leaked about disputes surrounding the contract for the new machines. One of three vendors competing for the $60 million job, Election Systems and Software, had complained about a process rigged in favor of another bidder, Dominion Voting Systems.
ESS said an initial set of standards had gone out, but then, weeks later than allowed under state rules, the department sent additional requirements. Further, ESS alleged that only Dominion could meet some listed criteria.
The entity in charge of the process, the Office of State Procurement, halted matters after receiving the formal protest. It informed Ardoin, who then withdrew both sets of standards.
Ardoin, who as Schedler’s assistant oversaw the effort, said Schedler had issued the additional conditions on the way out the door without his knowledge. Further, the apparently tailor-made requirements actually applied to an existing contract with Dominion and were “inadvertently uploaded,” he said, as part of the new contract.
However, this Abbott and Costello routine took an uncomfortable turn when OSP ordered Ardoin to remove himself as the decider of the future winning bid. As first assistant, Ardoin had participated in a committee to draw up bid specifications, so it would create ethical difficulties to have him as secretary also to pick the winner.
Ardoin said that he had asked to be removed in proposal evaluation. Yet OSP framed the exchange as an order to which he didn’t object. All of this begs the question of why Ardoin only then realized the conflict, instead of withdrawing from the vetting process three months ago upon assuming his current office.
Then, to add insult to injury, Dominion won the contract, but at $35 million higher than anticipated. With only $10 million on hand, only five parishes may have new machines in time for this year’s elections — if it gets that far. ESS likely will protest the decision, slowing matters further.
Ardoin has built his campaign on his competence in office, and voters, after the fall of Schedler, will place a premium on an officeholder’s perceived integrity. Controversies over what Ardoin knew about the case against Schedler and when, his seemingly abrupt backtracking on serving as just a caretaker in the post, and his handling of the new voting machine contract don’t scream out competence and integrity to the state’s electorate.
Clarification: In my August 12 column, I argued that unanimous juries would make capital punishment a more effective deterrent. Louisiana's current criminal procedure codes require a unanimous jury decision for a capital sentence. The constitutional amendment to require unanimous juries would make that more difficult to change.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about it at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.