Tuesday, 18 February 2014 17:07

Nagin bust; dueling LaGOP; Vitter vs. whom, Mitch?

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cassidyThe Nagin Trial. The trial of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has ended with guilty verdicts in 20 of 21 counts. The trial brings to an end a sad chapter in New Orleans politics that began with such high hopes.

 Mr. Nagin was elected as a reformer. Voters were looking for change. The good government types in the city told voters that Mr. Nagin was that change. They bought it and rejected the city’s police chief, Richard Pennington, as the next mayor. Newly elected mayor, Ray Nagin, with no experience in government, began his tenure in city government.  There were lessons to be learned from his administration and lessons that voters should never forget.

It seemed apparent from the trial that Mayor Nagin’s personal finances were at risk during his term of office. He gave up big bucks to become mayor when he resigned from Cox Cable. It is difficult to adjust from a big six figure salary to a five or low six figure income.  The temptation was great, and Mayor Nagin fell prey. It would have been much better for the city and Mr. Nagin had he simply resigned from office to pursue a job with higher pay. But instead, Mayor Nagin chose a different road, one that has led to his downfall and likely a long term in prison.

Ray Nagin was a virgin moving into city politics. I doubt he ever encountered anything like what he experienced when he became mayor. Being hit on from all sides, the job can be thankless and impossible at best. Without experience in government at any level, Mr. Nagin was not prepared for what was about to hit him.

The glamour of the job is great. Ribbon cutting, shaking hands, and meeting and greeting dignitaries are the fun parts of the job, but not the real job of being mayor; that is the nuts and bolts of running city government and schmoozing the city council and other political and civic leaders into moving the city forward. The job is especially difficult when moving forward means giving up your sacred cow. During the Nagin administration many people felt that their problems were heard but never resolved. Many city residents felt that the city was a ship without a rudder.  Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and Mayor Nagin’s lack of experience showed. The city wallowed and recovery proved difficult at best. At the end of Nagin’s term, voters turned to Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu to save the city.  It was a vote as much for Mitch Landrieu the second time as it was a vote expressing regret in not having voted for Mitch the first time four years earlier.

Mitch Landrieu came into office and has rebuilt the city.  Much needs to be done, but, given how bad things were, the city is light years ahead of where it was just four short years ago.

There is one lesson in all of this that voters should keep in mind. New people with new ideas serving in government are good, but running government is unlike any other job.  Without people who have the experience and expertise to put those new ideas and approaches into play, voters will have to live through a very steep learning curve, and sometimes that learning curve can be too steep to ever overcome. Just ask Mayor Nagin.

The Race for Senator. Poor Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy is being hit on from all sides. Democrats call him a right wing extremist while some Republicans, like Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, say he is weak on the issues and not conservative enough.  What a dilemma for voters. Who is to be believed? Is Cassidy too far right or too far left?

Louisiana’s Republican leadership needs to decide if it wants to win the race for the Senate or run a candidate who espouses a far right agenda that Louisiana voters reject, thereby reelecting Sen. Mary Landrieu (D).  Simply put, republicans need to put this issue to rest now and answer the question, “Do we want to win the race for the Senate or do we want to make a statement?”  If they decide the latter, Senator Landrieu will be reelected, and Louisiana will become another state, like Nevada, Missouri, and Indiana, that blew its chances to elect a Republican United States Senator. It is still a victory if you get more than you had even if it is not everything you want.

Mitch’s Decision. Republican Sen. David Vitter has announced his candidacy for governor, but how the campaign will progress is still up in the air. The republican field seems set with Sen. Vitter and Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne going at it for the republican/conservative vote. State Treasurer John Kennedy is talked about, but he has not said what he will do. The democrats still do not have a set field and won’t until N.O. Mayor Mitch Landrieu makes his intentions known. It may be that others are more excited by a Mitch Landrieu campaign than Mayor Landrieu is, but until Mitch speaks up, the democratic field will not be cast.   

Should democrats field a strong candidate like Mitch Landrieu, it is likely that there will be a Democrat versus Republican runoff. The most likely candidates in the runoff today are Democrat Mitch Landrieu and Republican David Vitter. This is not to say that Lt. Governor Dardenne cannot be in the mix. On the contrary, that is what campaigns are all about.  It will be a difficult road to travel for Mr. Dardenne but not impossible. This is why the race for Governor will be exciting to watch.

In case you are wondering, the governor’s race is not until October of 2015. It is really too early to get excited about the race since so much can change in such a long period of time.  Still, for political junkies the prospect of a Landrieu-Vitter race for governor is more than one strong human heart can bear.  In fact, the prospect of the race may make the race itself anticlimactic.

Lawrence Chehardy

For thirty-four years Lawrence Chehardy served as Assessor of Jefferson Parish. He has been the leading authority on Louisiana’s property tax laws. In addition to his political commentary and public speaking engagements, Lawrence Chehardy is a founding member of the Chehardy, Sherman, Ellis, Murray, Recile, Griffith, Stakelum & Hayes Law Firm and serves as its managing partner.

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