State treasurer considering leap to attorney general

by Jeremy Alford, LaPolitics

As speculation about a possible campaign for governor grew over the past few months, Treasurer John Kennedy was actually, very quietly, paving a path to run for attorney general.

State Treasurer John Kennedy

As speculation about a possible campaign for governor grew over the past few months, Treasurer John Kennedy was actually, very quietly, paving a path to run for attorney general, sources tell LaPolitics. But he has not yet decided if the race is right for him.

One longtime donor said the treasurer “sounded serious from the first phone call” and throughout their recent meeting, adding that Kennedy has polled the developing race for attorney general. Another source, a regular influencer around the Capitol, said Kennedy has not only been seeking advice, but also interpretations on the vulnerability of incumbent Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

When asked to comment, Kennedy spoke through his political consultant, Jason Redmond, who confirmed there’s some movement on the AG front.

“The treasurer has been approached by members of the business community about possibly running for attorney general, and he has listened,” said Redmond. “He’s made no decisions about next year’s elections, but expects that he will make an announcement soon after the first of the year.”

That’s a mouthful more than Kennedy has said about his supposed aspirations to become governor.

It would be familiar territory. Kennedy ran for attorney general as a Democrat in 1991 and carried 20 percent of the vote. He was pushed out of the runoff by Ben Bagert by roughly 24,000 votes, which led to the election of former AG Richard Ieyoub. Kennedy also considered running for the AG position in 2007, but backed away and switched to the Republican Party the same year.

Attorney general has always been the “prize denied” for Kennedy, said a close ally, and speculation of a run started earlier this year, as reported by LaPolitics in February.

Should he make the leap, money will not be a problem for Kennedy. He started the year with $3 million in his campaign kitty and Redmond said he’ll report close to $3.5 million at the beginning of 2015.

Former U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry

The question is whether former Congressman Jeff Landry can match Kennedy’s financial flex. Odds are he’ll at least post a respectable number, with sources citing a few six-figure fundraisers held already this year. Kennedy’s entrance into the race would certainly push Landry further to the right, not that the former congressman has to inch over much more.

Fundraising may be a challenge for Caldwell, as he showed only $410,000 in the bank as of Sept. 2. Unless he has cranked up his machine, which any sitting attorney general should be able to do, it’ll be a long election season for Caldwell in 2015. Republican Marty Maley, a private attorney with experience as a prosecutor, will have to amp up his game as well.

While a source close to Kennedy wouldn’t share polling results, they did say Caldwell’s re-elect stats are less than impressive. The source made a point to note that former Treasurer Ken Duncan in 1999 and former Attorney General Charlie Foti in 2007 both had re-elect numbers in the mid-20s. Duncan and Foti also started their failed re-election years with small banks, about $200,000 and right at $1 million respectively.

When asked about the survey and talking points, Redmond wouldn’t talk polling, but acknowledged the comparison.

“They both got caught napping,” he said.

The unknown factor is a Democrat, and the party has yet to field a formidable name. One poll has shown a generic Democrat climbing as high as 33 percent in a primary field, although some politicos claim somewhere in the 20s is more likely.

Kennedy’s political brand is one of a public watchdog, which, if history is any indication, will be played to the hilt during next year’s regular session. It’s also a good fit for attorney general, and a role Landry filled this election season as the voter integrity chair for the Louisiana Republican Party.

Which brings up another question or two: What will the state GOP do with Landry and Kennedy on the ballot? Moreover, what will U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who is running for governor, do?

Vitter has offered encouraging words for Landry’s bid already and has had a good working relationship with Kennedy in the past. The truth may be that Kennedy isn’t as closely tied to Vitter as some may have thought, and this independent move toward AG is a new chapter in his long, storied political career.

Either way, it’s becoming clear that the race for governor won’t be the only barnburner atop the 2015 ballot.

Who might run for treasurer?

It’s difficult to handicap a post that may not open up or, as in this case, most people don’t know about yet. But there have been possible candidacies floated over the years to either take on Treasurer John Kennedy, elected in 1999, or to maybe replace him when he was considering other opportunities.

The most recent name to surface is that of state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, who earned a hard-working reputation in the lower chamber as a member of the conservative fiscal hawks. He’s heavily involved in the budget process and has a deep knowledge of the state’s financials. Right now, Schroder said he is focused on seeking re-election.

There was also a time not long ago that former state House Speaker Jim Tucker was considering a run for treasurer. Tucker, who recently started a new job, could not be reached for comment recently.

Other Republicans to express interest in the past include former lawmaker and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and Dan Kyle, at one time the state’s legislative auditor.

When Kennedy flirted with running for governor in 2003, Jude Melville, a Republican who serves as president of Business First Bank, launched an exploratory effort and raised a small amount of money before the tide turned. He is the nephew of former Gov. Buddy Roemer. Should he show interest again, Melville might be able to tap into what’s left of Roemer’s donor network.