Political State

Catholic Shift

The tenure of Pope John Paul II was marked by cataclysmic changes on the world scene in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The wall in Berlin came tumbling down, and the Russians embraced democracy during the third longest papal tenure. Louisiana also noted some subtle, but substantial shifts. When the former Karol Wojtyla became the spiritual leader to nearly a billion Roman Catholics in 1978, Edwin Edwards was in his second term as governor.

At the time, Edwards was an anomaly. A Catholic from south Louisiana was as foreign to the governor's mansion as a Polish pope was to the Vatican.

EWE's predecessors had been a succession of Protestants from north Louisiana. Nearly three decades later, it appears Buddy Roemer may be the last of the type to fit the mold of north Louisiana Protestant Huey Pierce Long, the pride of Winnfield. Roemer is a Bossier City Methodist who departed the House that Huey built 13 years ago.

It's almost a certainty that Gov. Kathleen Blanco won't be the last of the Edwards mold to sit in the governor's chair. Both of our U.S. senators, Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, share geography and Catholicism with Blanco. Congressmen Bobby Jindal of Kenner and Charles Melancon of Napoleonville are also south Louisianans, who receive spiritual guidance from Rome.

It was once the kiss of death for a Louisiana politician to profess allegiance to the Pope. But the state's population base has shifted so much that more than two-thirds of Louisiana's residents live south of Alexandria. The South remains overwhelmingly Protestant in religious affiliation, but two other southern states have elected Catholic governors in North Carolina's Michael Easley and Florida's Jeb Bush.

John Kennedy remains the only Catholic to be elected president. Forty-five years later, three potential Catholic White House aspirants are Louisiana politicians. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter are in their forties while Bobby Jindal is just 33.

Before any presidential dreams are formally launched, Jindal and Landrieu will likely duke it out in 2008 when the New Orleans incumbent seeks a third term in the Senate.


Whatever his future intentions are, Jindal is making sure he has the financial backing for campaigning. Thousands of Bobby Jindal supporters received a disquieting e-mail last week urging contributors to send him money immediately. Jindal faces re-election in a year and a half, and implored backers to pull out their checkbooks and credit cards now.

"To reach our goal, we must raise $51,789 TODAY,!!" the freshman Republican exhorted his followers. Jindal might have learned some collection methods from evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who was riding high in Baton Rouge during the childhood of the congressman.

Jindal received nearly 80 percent of the votes in the First District last year as he succeeded David Vitter in the U. S. House of Representatives, but he's taking no chances on the loyalty of the electorate. Jindal aide Timmy Teepell was quoted in the New Orleans Times-Picayune as saying, "We're not going to take anything for granted. We know only one way to campaign, and that's full out."

Jindal, who is the head of the Republican freshman class in Washington, had $666,450 in his campaign account at the close of 2004. He was so well-financed last year that he donated some money to fellow GOP candidates in other states.

The 2003 gubernatorial runner-up was rewarded by his colleagues with the post of assistant majority whip. "One weak fund-raising quarter will invite opponents and national interest groups to target me for defeat," Jindal wrote.

Despite the urgent plea, the Kenner lawmaker is considered a cinch for re-election to the House and faces no major Democratic opposition. It appears more and more likely that Jindal will use his massive war chest against Landrieu in 2008.


Gov. Blanco steered a bill through the Louisiana Legislature to ban fund-raisers by House and Senate members during the session. Her success has produced a flurry of campaign functions before the April 25 opening of this year's session.

State lawmakers are scrambling to raise every dollar before they convene at the Capitol. They are not up for re-election until 2007, but most members are ramping up for the next election.

Lobbyists are crisscrossing Louisiana to appear at these events, so they may have more time available during the session. Depending on your point of view, this could be a positive or not so positive development.

Even though this is a "fiscal-only session," lawmakers are allowed to file five non-fiscal bills. It promises to be a contentious session with some familiar names surfacing. Sen. James David Cain, R-Dry Creek, is proposing legislation to make it a crime to remove a feeding tube. Cain says he was influenced by the attention the Terry Schiavo case generated. Fifteen years ago, the flamboyant brother of Angola Warden Burl Cain proposed a bill to lower the battery penalty for beating up flag burners.

Jim Engster is the general manager of WRKF (89.3 FM). He hosts the Jim Engster Show, which airs weekdays at 9 a.m.