John Kennedy at Press Club 070119

U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, addressed the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday, July 1, 2019.

The governor’s election is somewhat of a snoozer, so far.

By the July Fourth holiday in 2015, the four main gubernatorial candidates had appeared at dozens of forums and already had launched television campaigns.

This year, no television schedules and no direct mailers. The three gubernatorial candidates have appeared together once: at an energy industry event where each had five minutes to say how much they loved oil and gas.

All of this could change soon, of course.

But, unless something dramatic happens soon, the most exciting races will be those to fill the 105 seats in the Louisiana House and the 39 places in the state Senate. Forty-seven of the 144 seats are vacant because of term limits and a handful of others are empty because of retirements.

Already 44 women have announced they are signing up to run for the Louisiana Legislature this fall. That historic number is likely to grow before qualifying finishes Aug. 8.

What’s interesting is that women candidates — Republicans as well as Democrats — are rebelling against the established strategy of ideological line-drawing and are openly campaigning on their willingness to negotiate to get things done.

But the empire is striking back.

The Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority contends that one reason for the Legislature’s dysfunction is that conservative Republicans don’t hold enough seats to force the small-government policy lines it espouses. Republicans need to pick up one seat in the Senate and eight in the House to have a veto-proof majority in both chambers.

Plus, they need to replace more moderate Republicans, particularly in the Senate, with more ideologically pure conservatives.

That way, the “my way or the highway” strategy, which hasn’t worked very well so far, would have a better chance of controlling the legislative agenda in both House and Senate.

Baton Rouge political pollster John Couvillon gives the committee’s strategy a better-than-even chance of working. The reason is mathematical rather than philosophical.

Term limits impacted more Senate moderates, such as Senate President John Alario, of Westwego; Sens. Danny Martiny, of Metairie; Dan Claitor, of Baton Rouge; Dale Erdey, of Livingston; John R. Smith of Leesville; among others, he said.

Republicans also hope to flip the seat of Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, whose largely rural Acadiana district has overwhelmingly supported Republican candidates in the past few presidential and gubernatorial campaigns.

Begun more than a decade ago to bulk up the GOP’s presence in the Legislature, the Committee for a Conservative Majority is shifting to a goal of more ideological purity now that both chambers have Republican majorities.

To that end, U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, said the committee is interviewing potential candidates. He endorsed former Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud for LaFleur’s seat. Though she ran eighth in a nine-candidate race for secretary of state, the articulate and charismatic Cloud was tagged by party elders as a future leader.

“I do plan on being very involved to the extent candidates want me to,” Kennedy told the Press Club of Baton Rouge last week. “I’ve been raising money for the effort. I think it’s very important.”

Since the last cycle, the committee has raised $1.14 million from 32 people, including from usual suspects: Morris Dickson, the pharma company from Shreveport, $100,000; Boysie Bollinger, a longtime GOP donor, $85,000; Gray & Company, the commercial insurance company, $100,000; ATCO Investment Company in Shreveport, $125,000; Excel Group CEO David Roberts, of Baton Rouge $75,000; and GOP gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone’s ISC Constructors LLC, of Baton Rouge, $100,000, according to the latest available financial disclosure filed June 7.

They also picked up money, though not as much, from Baton Rouge contractor Lane Grigsby, Price LeBlanc Jr., of auto dealer fame, and a subsidiary of cigarette manufacturer R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

Most of the money, so far, has gone to administrative and fundraising expenses.

The Hayride, the popular conservative blog that regularly castigates Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and moderate Republicans, has been paid $15,000 so far this year.

That’s almost as much as the $17,500 given out as campaign contributions. State Sen. Beth Mizell, of Franklinton, who is running for reelection, and representatives running for Senate seats, Cameron Henry, of Metairie; Kirk Talbot, of River Ridge; and Reid Falconer, of Covington, received money.

The group reported sitting on $965,475 on June 7.

“The goal is more complex. No longer is the end game about party gains, instead it is about policy gains and electing conservatives to the Louisiana Legislature,” Falconer said in a statement thanking Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority for its contribution.

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