THE INDEPENDENT'S ELECTION GUIDE
Check out our special Oct. 20 pull-out Election Guide in this week's edition for our constitutional amendment recommendations, maps of local voting districts and a complete list of all local and statewide races and candidates. Each candidate's contact information is included, so if you have any 11th-hour questions to ask a candidate, all the info you need is right at your fingertips ...
MICHOT/ROBIDEAUX DRAW HEAT OVER ADS Both Lafayette state Sen. Mike Michot and Rep. Joel Robideaux are running unopposed for re-election this year, but that hasn't kept them out of the fray of election season attacks. Two weekends ago, Michot and Robideaux's political action committee, Leadership for Louisiana, began running ads critical of District 43 state representative candidate Patrick LeBlanc. The ads take clips from LeBlanc's own ads and campaign speeches promoting ethics reform, while highlighting news reports on LeBlanc's ties to a recent public corruption scandal in west Texas. Both Michot and Robideaux have endorsed Leblanc's opponent in the District 43 race, Page Cortez. The negative ads are a first for Leadership for Louisiana, which was formed by Michot and Robideaux in 2006 with a mission to "recruit, train, and support quality candidates for office." The organization also espouses a need for "clean, solution-oriented" campaigns and urges candidates to sign a pact, which includes a pledge to "conduct a clean campaign focused on solutions to our state's problems." The candidate pledge concludes: "I will not engage in personal attacks or dirty politics and will firmly oppose those who do."
Perhaps taking a page out of Michot and Robideaux's own playbook, the Pat LeBlanc campaign is using those words against Leadership for Louisiana. A new radio ad by the LeBlanc camp, tilted "The Truth about Patrick LeBlanc" states, "with the recent attacks on Patrick LeBlanc, [Leadership for Louisiana] has made a mockery of their own pledge." The ad never mentions Michot and Robideaux by name, referring to them only as the "two Lafayette legislators" behind Leadership for Louisiana. The spot also claims Michot and Robideaux helped "increase your taxes, doubled the size of state government and did nothing about the disgraceful Road Home program" before adding "too bad you can't vote against them."
Michot and Robideaux have since issued a statement in response, which begins, "Senator Mike Michot and Representative Joel Robideaux want to make sure that the voters of Lafayette Parish know that they are the two legislators being personally attacked in an ad being aired by the Patrick LeBlanc Campaign." The typically passive Michot, who is a longtime friend of Cortez, states he originally held out hope that LeBlanc would withdraw from the race once news broke of his connection to the Texas corruption scandal. (LeBlanc maintains he is innocent of any wrongdoing.) "Instead," Michot states, "[LeBlanc] began spending his personal fortune to craft a message built on ethics reform."
"I believe that [LeBlanc] is misleading the people of Lafayette, Broussard and Youngsville," Michot continues, "and that he misrepresented himself to many of his early supporters. Let Mr. LeBlanc and his political operatives hear me very clearly. As the Senator representing these areas, I feel an obligation and duty to inform the voters of the allegations surrounding Mr. LeBlanc. Transparency and disclosure start during a campaign." ... JOHN WARNER SMITH LEAVING BLANCO ADMINISTRATION A former CAO for Lafayette government tapped by Gov. Kathleen Blanco in early 2004 as labor secretary, John Warner Smith is leaving the post Nov. 2 for a job as CEO of Next Horizon. Next Horizon is a nonprofit formed by attorney Paul G. Pastorek, who was named State Superintendent of Education earlier this year after the death of Cecil Picard.
In announcing Smith's departure, Blanco noted that his department faced unprecedented challenges following hurricanes Katrina and Rita and commended Smith for his work aiding residents in the aftermath of those storms.
From 1989 to 1997, Smith served as CAO for Lafayette and Lafayette Consolidated Government, where he oversaw all departments and helped lead the transition for consolidation of city and parish governments. Before accepting the position in Blanco's administration, Smith worked for six years as a vice president in the government banking division of JP Morgan Chase.
Blanco says she will announce a replacement for Smith in the coming weeks. Smith's last day as labor secretary is Friday, Nov. 2. ... POLL: JINDAL UNDER 50 PERCENT AS OCT. 20 APPROACHES A gubernatorial poll conducted by Southeastern Louisiana University shows Republican frontrunner Bobby Jindal just under the 50 percent he would need to score an outright victory on Oct. 20. The poll of 641 registered voters from Oct. 1-7 found Jindal at 46 percent, Democrat Walter Boasso at 10 percent, independent John Georges at 9 percent, and Democrat Foster Campbell at 6 percent. The most surprising finding of the poll showed 29 percent still undecided or refusing to state a preference, which poll director Kurt Corbello of SLU says is unusually high this late in a campaign.
With undecided "leaners" factored in, the numbers shake out this way: Jindal just over 49 percent, Boasso at 11.2 percent; Georges at 10.8 percent and Campbell at 6.2 percent.
If Jindal doesn't win on Oct. 20 and it goes to a runoff, his whopping campaign chest ' he reported $4.24 million in cash-in-hand in last week's campaign finance report ' still gives him a huge edge. Boasso, Campbell or Georges each would be at a significant financial disadvantage ' Boasso had $144,000 left to spend, Campbell had $409,000 and Georges had $734,000 ' but would be hoping for the stars to align in a runoff.
African-American voters will play a huge part in deciding whether there's a runoff. They account for 30 percent of the Louisiana electorate, making that segment of the population a swing vote in critical elections. This year is no different, and the four major gubernatorial candidates are desperately trying to capture the black vote.
Recent polls have Jindal holding roughly 18 to 21 percent of the black vote, but most political scientists are predicting the unprecedented numbers ' for an extremely conservative Republican ' will melt away as the Democratic base is energized on Saturday. Why? Maybe it's because Jindal, a congressman who represents the Kenner area, isn't reaching out to those communities in the traditional sense.
Reports from churches and interviews with ministers reveal that it's the other three contenders making a concerted effort. Some churches and neighborhoods have voiced disappointment that the frontrunner visited them four years ago in his race against Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco, but not this time around.
Jindal spokeswoman Melissa Sellers told the Associated Press that Jindal is reaching out "to every community, every city, and every parish." He did not, however, attend a debate last weekend hosted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Georges missed the forum as well, but the independent was notably the only candidate to attend the march and protest in Jena recently.
Rev. Raymond Brown, a New Orleans Democrat who was formerly a candidate for governor, has endorsed Jindal. But Blanco, whose approval ratings among African-Americans remain a solid 70 percent, has yet to get involved in the race, although it's safe to assume she isn't backing Jindal. Her office recently told media outlets told that the governor is still undecided how she might act.
Longtime Louisiana political reporter John Maginnis weighed in on the African-American vote in his Political Fax Weekly column this week: "Though 29 percent of voters are African-Americans, their poor turnout compared to whites in 2003 caused them to make up only 26 percent of the electorate," wrote Maginnis. "That could go down more as polls show blacks have even less interest in this election.
"If so, with only the same 9 percent black vote he got last time, Jindal could still win with 64 percent of whites and other races, which he is polling close to now."
Maginnis continues, "If Jindal does break double digits among blacks, that would be remarkable considering how much less he has reached out to African-Americans in this campaign compared to 2003. He has, away from the cameras, spent considerable time in black churches sharing his Christian witness, as he has before many predominantly white congregations. And he seems far less threatening to blacks than the typical conservative Republican. Yet, in his campaign, nearly all faces all white, from his staff to supporters appearing in his TV commercials to the crowds at his events, with barely a token in sight.
"But then, his problem last time wasn't that he didn't get enough black votes. He could get more this time without even trying, so he isn't."
... WHERE'S BOBBY? It's no secret that Jindal isn't attending most of the debates to face his opposition. His campaign stays mum, arguing that Jindal is bringing his message to the state directly.
That message, though, didn't reach Houma last week. Jindal left a crowd waiting Wednesday afternoon, but at least sent his wife, Supriya, in his stead. Campaign staff wouldn't say where Jindal was.
He probably wasn't in Congress. According to the roll call records of Congress, Jindal hasn't voted since Sept. 10, missing a total of 93 consecutive votes. Prior to that, he made two votes commemorating 9/11 and supporting Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Yet he missed votes on the energy bill, affordable housing, improving government accountability (one of his campaign's war cries) and hordes of others.
Jindal campaign spokespeople have called the missed votes "regrettable" but unavoidable during an election season. But the problem may be larger than a few isolated months this year. Overall, Jindal has missed 202 of 2,160 votes, 9 percent, since he took office on Jan. 4, 2005. GovTrack, a nonpartisan nexus of federal data, ranks that stat as "poor, relative to peers." ... IRS TURNING TO BOUNTY HUNTERS? U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Democrat who represents portions of Acadiana, is playing up his vote on a bill to whip the Internal Revenue Service into shape ' at least a little bit. The bipartisan Tax Collection Responsibility Act of 2007 would repeal the IRS's authority to contract out collection work to private companies.
It's a sticky situation, all courtesy of Uncle Sam. Under current law, the IRS can turn over confidential taxpayer information to practically any company they want. That includes your social security number.
Furthermore, the private collection companies are permitted to keep as much as 24 percent of whatever they collect from Joe Q. Public. Melancon aptly calls the fee a "bounty" that "exposes taxpayers to harassment and wastes tax dollars."
In testimony before Congress recently, IRS officials admitted to the practice and confessed that it's actually more expensive than doing the work in-house.
"This bill we passed puts the responsibility for tax collection solely where it belongs," Melancon says. "With the IRS."
Contributors: Jeremy Alford, Scott Jordan, Nathan Stubbs and Leslie Turk