Like his former boss before him, interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin is casting himself to voters as basically indispensable.
That was the reason Tom Schedler gave when he tried to hold on to his job, despite bipartisan pressure to step down after a longtime employee sued him over a pattern of sexual harassment that crossed over into out outright stalking.
"I work for the people of the state of Louisiana, and I’ve always taken that very seriously. They elected me to do a job, and it’s way too important to walk away from, especially with my tail between my legs," Schedler said, not long before he did just that.
It was also the rationale Ardoin offered when he reversed his commitment not to run for the permanent post in November’s special election. In fact, it’s now become pretty much the entire theme of his campaign against eight opponents.
"I don't think we need on-the-job training," he said when he made his last-minute switch and has said many times since.
Despite their protestations, neither man actually came across as indispensable then. They’re looking even less so now.
In a one-two punch last week, the state settled with Schedler’s accuser to the tune of $149,075. Schedler himself will have to pay an additional $18,425 to resolve his legal issues and make the case go away.
And Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration invalidated a new multimillion-dollar contract for voting machines procured on Ardoin’s watch, after finding that some of a failed bidder’s complaints about the process were valid.
The losing company has accused Ardoin’s office of bid-rigging on behalf of Dominion Voting Systems by publishing standards that only Dominion would be able to meet. Ardoin said that the standards were wrongfully posted but didn’t figure into the evaluation. Paula Tregre, the state’s chief procurement officer, also identified other concerns surrounding the standards that made the bid solicitation “inherently defective,” and ordered it to start anew.
Ardoin cried politics — Edwards is a Democrat and he’s a Republican — but the administration said Tregre acted independently. Besides, Ardoin’s Republican opponents have been just as critical of this and some of his other actions in office as any Democrat has.
In fact, as Ardoin made his case for staying the course during a Baton Rouge Press Club forum last week — after the challenge to the bid had been filed but before the Edwards administration ruled — his opponents were all about change.
State Rep. Rick Edmonds, a fellow Republican who represents Baton Rouge, argued that Ardoin’s decision to go back on his word reflects poorly on his integrity. After Ardoin accused his rivals of “trying to create baloney” in pursuit of his job, Edmonds piggybacked on the imagery.
Here’s "some mayo with that baloney," Edmonds said. "Keep your word, then next time around we won't have to doubt it."
Renee Fontenot Free, a Democrat who once served as first assistant in the Secretary of State’s office and has more recently worked for Attorney General Jeff Landry, expounded on her own record. She said she oversaw the last procurement of voting machines, and that the process had been scandal-free.
State Rep. Julie Stokes, a Kenner Republican, touted her own professional credential as a certified public accountant.
“I think what I bring to the table that is unique is the designation of CPA,” she said. “Our job is to set up internal control environments.”
All are arguing in favor of a fresh set of eyes on the office, which is a standard theme of challenger campaigns, just as continuity is a typical argument for incumbents seeking to stay in place.
You’ve got to admit that, after this week’s news, that case for continuity isn’t so convincing.