Sept 11 20th Anniversary

Former President George W. Bush speaks at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., Sept. 11, 2021.

Even if it is on a basic federal form, it’s hard to one-up the status of a Texan who listed his occupation as “former president.”

And that was on George W. Bush’s December form accompanying his personal check to the campaign of Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska senator and ferociously independent Republican.

Murkowski faces a challenger endorsed by another “former president” guy, Donald Trump. The Alaska senator is the only Republican senator up for reelection this year having voted for Trump’s impeachment.

Bush also made it clear where he stood when he wrote another check to the campaign of Liz Cheney, also challenged in her Wyoming primary for her congressional seat because of her outspoken criticism of the latest former president.

If that is driven by Trump’s desire not only to attack his enemies but again to run for the White House, these disputes are symptomatic of an infection of disaffection in both major political parties — not only nationally but in Louisiana, too.

From Vanity Fair down to Democratic primaries in liberal states, leftist views have spurred major debates in that party. And it is not at all clear if the party will be able to face its difficult 2022 congressional elections as a united front.

Party organizations aren’t what they used to be, of course. The days of Tammany Hall are long gone. Social media and a disaggregation of American society — chronicled in books like Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” — make the parties seem positively quaint, if not useless.

But look within the organizations, and there are conflicts playing out — although in Louisiana we’re not as far along as the Wyoming GOP, where fistfights broke out at party meetings.

There, wrote professor Jon Shields in The New York Times, “culture is remaking the highest reaches of the party as MAGA insurgents wrest control from the establishment. Hence, state party meetings, once sleepy and wonky affairs, are increasingly marked by bravado.”

Louisiana’s party culture is considerably different, and the division is not about Trump.

Last month, Louis Gurvich was reelected chairman of the state GOP, fending off a challenge from party secretary Michael Bayham. It was a close 101-90 vote. Rapid turnover for executive staff of the party and languishing fundraising were the public complaints.

There was no dispute about the latest, or any, former president; Bayham was backed by GOP gubernatorial nominee Eddie Rispone, who ran in 2019 on an all-out Trump platform.

If the GOP organization is roiled, so is the Democratic side in Louisiana. The first vice chairman of the state party is in the Legislature and drew fire from party activists because he voted for a Republican-sponsored map for new districts. Travis Johnson of Vidalia voted later in line with most of his fellow Democrats.

Within the Republican delegations in the state House and Senate, divisions also appeared. Often, though, they were not ideological but involved disputes over what new districts would look like — meaning that individual politicians, including term-limited members, were looking to create favorable districts for themselves or family members.

In Louisiana, we’re a far cry from the traditional party divisions that rule in other states. Until recently, but not this term because new political maps have to be drawn, the head of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee was not only a Democrat in a GOP-majority body but was also then chairing the Louisiana state party. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans would have never been picked to fill that kind of post in another state’s legislature, where the majority party fills the chairmanships.

We may be getting to that point in Louisiana, and how the remapping session’s conflicts play out, in both parties, may be an inflection point to making us a more “normal” state.

But perhaps with fewer fistfights.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.


Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.