Governor Jimmy Davis could draw a crowd on parish courthouse steps by blaring out a chorus of “You are My Sunshine.” Gov. John McKeithen was in high cotton while giving stump speeches on the back of a pickup truck. Edwin Edwards would mesmerize crowds in south Louisiana with his Cajun humor. Senators like Russell Long, Bennett Johnson and John Breaux, though not as flamboyant, still could both draw and relate to large crowds of voters all over the state.
Fairs and festivals used to be huge draws for statewide candidates. John Kennedy kicked off his run for the presidency before a crowd of over 200,000 at the Crowley Rice Festival back in 1959. It was an absolute must for aspiring governors, U.S. senators, and other statewide offices to attend the Frog Festival in Rayne, the Crawfish Festival in Beaux Bridge, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival, the Peach Festival in Ruston; the list goes on and on.
If you missed it from the bombardment of TV ads, there’s a runoff election going on in Louisiana for U.S. Senator. You sure would not be aware of this contest if you relied on either candidate showing up to “press the flesh,” and network with constituents at many of the large gatherings that happen every weekend this time of year. What happened to all the direct contact with voters?
To back up my point, I made a cross section of phone calls across the state. From Kentwood to Morgan City, Belle Chasse to Homer, and from Lutcher to Lake Providence, the message was almost always the same. The two candidates for U.S. Senator have been, almost without exception, no shows in these local communities. Retail politics have been put on the back burner. It’s all about television, paid for primarily by out of state special interest groups.
Incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu and run off challenger Dr. Bill Cassidy both seem to feel that the return is not worth their political investment to attend these annual gatherings, particularly in smaller communities. Their view is that they can get to the public on TV, and not spend the time with voters at the local level. I would respectfully disagree.
You can get a lot of bang for your buck by getting out among the locals. And in this day of growing social media, your contacts actually grow a number of times more than the crowd in attendance. Everyone now carries their cell phone cameras for “selfies” with friends as well as celebrities. Attending a festival can produce photos galore on Facebook, Twitter, and other social Internet outlets, as well as good fodder for the candidates to circulate themselves.
Landrieu particularly has lost a great deal of goodwill by her failure to be more in touch on the local level. Parish officials tell me they rarely if ever hear from the senior Senator. Her colleague in the senate, David Vitter, has been much more active in traveling with local officials and networking at the parish level, even before he expressed aspirations to run for governor. Vitter has regularly held town hall meetings and constituent telephone conferences for a number of years.
Cassidy has failed to seize the opportunity to build a strong base in the void left by Landrieu. He announced almost two years ago, then proceeded to spend the next year and a half raising campaign dollars, primarily from out of state PACs.
Both candidates may think that dollar raising for TV spots makes good political sense. But it is a slap at their constituents, and unhealthy for a democracy. Louisiana deserves better. Maybe we do need a third choice. In Nevada, if voters don’t like their choices on the ballot, they can vote for “none of the above.” If candidates don’t care enough to visit local communities, is that an option for Louisiana?
“ Imagine if you won the election but lost to ‘None of the Above’. Wouldn’t that make you re-think your positions?”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.