With two dozen candidates on offer and perhaps with 10 who actually can affect the outcome of the race, the scramble to get in the runoff has all but one of them desperately searching for issues by which to differentiate themselves positively to voters. Only Republican state Treas. John Kennedy, universally indicated in polls as having a hefty lead over all comers, had abjured from this approach.
It began almost three months ago when Republican Rep. John Fleming sent out a press release accusing fellow GOP House member Charles Boustany of promoting higher taxes and insufficient zeal against social engineering supported by Democrat Pres. Barack Obama. Focusing on one bill, H.R. 5055, Fleming contrasted his votes concerning it with Boustany’s.
The House rejected an amendment favored by Fleming to cut spending on water resources projects by a percentage point after a rise in it of 23 percent over the past three years that Boustany helped to defeat. Fleming then helped to defeat the final version that also had a rider in it that he opposed that would have pressured faith-based groups for contract inclusion to accept restrictions on their abilities to employ those who practice homosexuality or transgenderism.
But as it was, Boustany also opposed that amendment although he voted for its content in the final version of the bill. Even though that rider made it on, another successful amendment potentially blunted its impact in saying the law must not run afoul Constitutional protections for religious belief. Still, on both spending and social issues Fleming did draw a small, legitimate distinction between him and Boustany.
Yet compared to what came last week from several candidates, that appears cavernous in both policy distance and credibility. It began with Boustany accusing Kennedy of supporting tax increases on the energy industry, on the basis of a Legislative Auditor’s report early in the year that reviewed the agency’s reports for the previous year and, among dozens of these, pointed to one that said a limiting the horizontal drilling credit might be in order, as part of the whole Kennedy recommended that Gov. John Bel Edwards vet.
The incredible circuitousness of this charge and the way Boustany tortured fact and logic to get there undoubtedly will be studied by America’s global enemies to extract confessions and information from their foes. Kennedy’s repeated rhetoric against tax increases made his explanation that he supported the general idea of the report’s recommendation of efficiencies to find in government and not every single item in it, much less a tax increase, sounds entirely plausible.
But Boustany wasn’t finished. He also lumped Democrat Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell in with Kennedy’s reputed perfidy, saying Campbell also endorsed higher taxes on the industry. This sells much more easily because it’s old news, but also is more nuanced: Campbell would drop severance taxes in favor of a processing tax, and Campbell himself has extensive energy holdings that would benefit from the elimination of the severance tax.
Yet the whole issue is irrelevant, if not fraudulent: the U.S. Senate has nothing to do with taxing extracted minerals within states. As picayunish as Fleming’s distinction on H.R. 5055 with Boustany was, at least it dealt with the business of the job Boustany seeks, unlike Boustany’s claims against Kennedy and Campbell.
It also bordered on the hypocritical for its criticism of Kennedy, given Boustany’s past experiences. In 2009, he received the endorsement of an extremist interest group widely viewed as anti-Israel that became an issue in his 2012 reelection campaign against current Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry. He disavowed any relation with the group and even wrote a 2015 opinion piece expressing much the opposite of the group’s sentiments. If Boustany can argue he should not be declared guilty by association with the group, then it’s inconsistent if he does not give Kennedy the same benefit of the doubt regarding a putative Kennedy blanket endorsement of the report.
Kennedy, befitting his status as the giant among pygmies at this point in the race, also took a shot from one of the pipsqueaks, Democrat businessman Josh Pellerin, who desperately needs to draw attention to himself. A boilerplate liberal much like Democrat lawyer and former statewide candidate Caroline Fayard but whose energy background and nonpoliticians status he hopes to contrast with both Fayard and the more socially-conservative Campbell, Pellerin said Kennedy helped create the state’s recent fiscal difficulties.
Naturally, this ignored the fact that the state’s treasurer has nothing to do with fiscal policy-making, whose only formal role comes as a vote in decisions regarding capital outlay spending and retirement system policies and investments. Kennedy also often criticized past policy-makers for what he called excessive spending as well as their having too much desire to raise taxes.
Yet neither could Fayard and then Campbell resist jumping in with their own most specious of arguments forwarding their candidacies. Last week, Fayard, who criticized the white supremacy views of Republican former state Rep. David Duke in social media, alleged in ads she represented the only “direct opposite” candidate to Duke – presumably as he shares some economic policies with the GOP contestants and the other Democrats are male.
Of course, she’s white like Duke, unlike Republican businessman Abhay Patel or former Rep. Joseph Cao, and as Duke has made a career making disparaging remarks about non-whites, it would seem she can’t legitimately claim what she does. Patel nor Cao called her on that, although the former has excoriated Duke’s racism while the latter continues to run an invisible campaign.
However, it did provoke a reaction from Campbell, who opined that Fayard has taken this tack because she wanted to draw attention to a flailing campaign – ignoring the fact that polls generally have Campbell’s campaign hardly doing better than hers. It also led to a curious campaign statement issued by him, that Fayard has “been MIA [missing in action] for every fight that has mattered for our people” – an unfortunate choice of words, since Duke regularly invokes the phrase “our people” when spewing racist dogma.
Still, winning the prize for ill-founded, if not nonsensical campaign rhetoric, Republican and 2014 candidate Rob Maness also has criticized Duke, but then branched out beyond all the other spurious attacking explained above to go after conservative media using Duke as a foil. When The Hayride website reported Maness’ past association with a New Mexico group that advocated liberal immigration policies, his campaign went ballistic and tried to tie the site in with Duke, despite its demonstrated antipathy towards Duke.
As strained as Fleming’s differences with Boustany were, as silly as Boustany’s and Pellerin’s attacks against Kennedy were, as stupid as Fayard’s and Campbell’s assertions were, Maness’ attack made him appear the smallest of all in the room. But expect these results when candidates perceive the clock ticking without any real progress in separating themselves from their competition.