Wednesday, 21 July 2010 17:41

Vitter, Traylor: Family Values Off Table For GOP In Louisiana Senate Race

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Ijeffcrouere_150_200n his race for re-election, U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has attracted plenty of opponents: Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Independents. His first hurdle is to win the Republican primary on August 28. With over $5 million in the bank, Vitter is an overwhelming favorite, despite his well known liabilities.

In 2007, Vitter admitted to a “serious sin,” when his phone number was uncovered on the call records of the D.C. Madam. While voters do not know the extent of Vitter’s involvement with the prostitution ring, the connection hurt the Senator politically.He survived the scandal because no other accusations materialized and his wife offered her unwavering support.

Since that time, he has been a strong advocate for conservative issues in the Senate and a staunch opponent to the Obama agenda. His outspoken stances on many controversial issues have endeared him to the conservative voters in the state.  

Yet, in the last few weeks another controversy has erupted that has threatened to knock Vitter off stride. ABC News reported that Brent Furer, a longtime aide to Senator Vitter, had an outstanding arrest warrant in Baton Rouge as well as an extensive criminal record, including charges for drunken driving, cocaine and marijuana possession. The report also exposed sensational charges that Furer attacked and stabbed his girlfriend in the chin and hand, sending her to the hospital for treatment. Furer was accused of holding his girlfriend captive for 90 minutes and threatening to kill her. Furer pled guilty in the stabbing case, which occurred in 2008. Vitter said that Furer was disciplined after that incident and removed from the payroll for five days, but not fired.

Democrats have seized on this controversy, questioning the Senator’s knowledge of Furer’s background and claiming that Vitter “protected” his aide. State Representative Karen St. Germain (D-Pierre Part), Vice-Chair of the Louisiana Legislative Women’s Caucus said that “Vitter has shown a continued disrespect for women—this is only the latest example. After years of dodging questions about scandals, it’s time for David Vitter to come clean.”

Vitter has also been criticized for placing Furer in charge of “women’s issues” for his office. Melancon released a web video asking why Vitter hired such a person for his Senate staff. In the aftermath of the disclosure, Furer resigned from the staff, but that did not satisfy the National Organization of Women (NOW), which called for the Senator to resign. Vitter claimed that he was unaware of the extent of Furer’s criminal record and dismissed him after all of the information was brought to his attention. He also disputes the accusation that Furer was in charge of “women’s issues.”

Democrats will likely use the Furer scandal to reopen the issue involving Vitter’s relationship to the D.C. Madam and to local call girls. It will be part of their effort to label the Senator as uncivil toward women. This could be the opening that Democrats need to close the gap with Vitter. In the Rasmussen poll, Vitter led Melancon by 30 points among men, but only 11 points among women, which comprise a majority of the electorate in the state.
Melancon is not Vitter’s only challenge. He faces a seasoned politician in the GOP primary, former Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor, who is well known in North Louisiana. Traylor was encouraged to run by Republicans who are disappointed in Vitter’s alleged relationship with prostitutes and worried about his vulnerability on the issues of personal integrity and morality.

Nonetheless, Traylor seems ill-equipped to present a moral alternative to the Senator, given accusations that he had relationships with two married women.  State Representative Noble Ellington (D-Winnsboro) has accused Traylor of being “significantly involved” in events which caused his divorce from Peggy McDowell, who eventually married Traylor. McDowell is now deceased and there is a legal fight over her financial records. A lawsuit filed by Noble Ellington III and his brother Ryan is asking the court to force Traylor to provide them access to McDowell’s financial records, including bank statements and other property. According to the Ellington family, Traylor is resisting efforts to turn over the financial documents.

Making an even more tangled web for Traylor, he is involved in a current relationship with a married woman, also connected to the Ellington family. Traylor is dating Denise Lively, the estranged wife of Ryan Ellington. Traylor and Lively began their relationship after she was estranged from Ellington. While Lively and Ryan Ellington are still married, their divorce is pending.

Traylor denies the accusation that he was involved in the divorce of Noble Ellington and Peggy McDowell and his campaign manager Lev Dawson maintains that the Judge’s personal reputation is “impeccable.”

All of these personal issues will likely distract Traylor from his campaign message and make it more difficult for him to raise questions about the moral character of David Vitter.

According to columnist Justin Elliott, "Louisiana Republicans are facing a choice between a family values incumbent who solicited prostitutes and a family values challenger who is currently sleeping with his stepson's estranged wife."

In this race, with accusations and statements like this, it seems clear that the issue of family values is off the table for the GOP.

Jeff Crouere is a native of New Orleans, LA and he is the host of a Louisiana based program, “Ringside Politics,” which airs at 7:30 p.m. Fri. and 10:00 p.m. Sun. on WLAE-TV 32, a PBS station, and 7 till 11 a.m.weekdays on WGSO 990 AM in New Orleans and the Northshore. For more information, visit his web site at E-mail him at [email protected]

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