Walter Pierce

In the waning light

by Walter Pierce

The Tea Party phenomenon in Lafayette is winding down — Saturday’s runoff proved it.

There was a palpable concern over the summer among moderates in Lafayette Parish — Republicans, Democrats and independents — that the City-Parish Council could fall to the Tea Party that thrives in the myopic comfort of its Southside barcalounger. Pastor Bobby Richard’s loss to Nanette Cook in the District 7 primary on Oct. 24 and Carol Ross’ failure to make the District 8 runoff allayed those fears. Now, with Andy Naquin losing his one-term District 6 Council seat to Bruce Conque and Liz Webb Hebert prevailing over Gerald Judice in the Distrcit 8 runoff, moderates can exhale.

That leaves Jared Bellard, who won his re-election bid in October, and William Theriot, who was re-elected without opposition, as the lone Tea Party standard bearers on the council. That is our hope, anyway. Naquin has made a three-headed hydra with Bellard and Theriot. No more. Well, no more beginning in January. Conque, Cook and Hebert are by all appearances moderate-minded folks for whom common sense will prevail over ideology. Conque is a proven pragmatist. Moreover, although Ross didn’t explicitly, to our knowledge, endorse the more conservative Judice in the District 8 runoff, she did make her preference for him clear on social media. Webb won anyway, and the concern that the next City-Parish Council could be controlled by a five-vote Tea Party bloc comprising Bellard, Naquin, Richard, Ross and Theriot is dissipated.

The race for Lafayette sheriff can also be viewed as a repudiation of the Tea Party. Mark Garber, the victor, is wonkish and well-educated. His opponent, Scott Police Chief Chad Leger, is a good ole boy who tried to harness fear and paranoia — sanctuary cities and Syrians specifically — to scare voters into choosing him. What, after all, has been the Tea Party’s stock-in-trade since its emergence in 2009? It’s been fear and paranoia — about “real Americans” losing control of “their country” to the exoctics, i.e., the takers, the blacks, the gays, Latinos, feminists and liberals.

It didn’t work for Leger. Voters, especially in the city of Lafayette where Garber won big, rejected Leger’s appeals to fear and racism and chose the more experienced, level-headed candidate. Both Garber and Leger are Republicans; this choice was a matter of degrees. Moderation beat bluster.

Lafayette has yet a ways to go before settling comfortably into purple: Jeff Landry, an empty suit who parlayed has faux Tea Party bona fides into one term in Congress and now state attorney general, won big in the parish and David Vitter won handily, although not by the margins of the Republican presidential candidates in the last two cycles.

Lafayette Parish, which has resisted infection by the ideological intransigence that has paralyzed the U.S. Congress for seven years, appears ready in January to swear in a super majority on the City-Parish Council that will work for the good of the parish as opposed to their individual “teams.” Overall it will be four Republicans, four Democrats and an independent — exactly the constitution of the Council following the 2007 election that preceded the Tea Party.

Is it too early to say the fever has broken? Probably. But the recent election results were promising.