Post-Mortem Fact Check

by Jeremy Alford

The 2008 election season left voters with perceptions that are both bitterly true and comically false.
Here’s one last dig below the surface. During the final days of the fall elections, Gov. Bobby Jindal cut back-to-back commercials for fellow Republicans at an unknown private residence. One of the spots, produced for state Sen. Bill Cassidy’s bid in Baton Rouge’s 6th Congressional District, called out Democrats for making attacks that were “over the line,” as Jindal put it. But when the National Republican Campaign Committee lashed out at Democrat Don Cazayoux, the incumbent in the race, for voting to legalize cloning in Louisiana when no such vote ever took place, Jindal was nowhere to be found. Those ads were eventually pulled from the air, but it was proof positive that the truth sometimes has a party preference, especially this election cycle.

In Shreveport’s 4th Congressional District, the animosity in the Republican primary crested when Dr. John Fleming and attorney Jeff Thompson accused frontrunner Chris Gorman of lying about his master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University. Behind the scenes in that contest, political operatives also circulated stories linking one of the candidates to a series of work-related deaths, but the mainstream media in north Louisiana never took the bait.

Meanwhile, in Acadiana’s 7th Congressional District, Democratic state Sen. Don Cravins shot his campaign commercials in a place he hoped voters would relate with honesty and integrity: his hometown church, standing below stained-glass windows and praying inside empty pews with his family. A later ad from Cravins slammed Dr. Charles Boustany, the Republican incumbent, for collecting disability checks, which is true. But Boustany, who suffers from a severe case of arthritis, receives the money from a surgeon’s insurance program he paid into for years.

There’s no shortage of examples from the 2008 election cycle where campaigns fudged the truth, candidates spoke in half-truths and political operatives were spreading downright nasty lies. With the campaigning all but over, here’s a quick look at a few outrageous fibs, misleading headlines and harsh realities from the recent political season:

Southeastern Students Are Hitting the Pipe

When the Southeastern Louisiana University Social Science department released a poll last week showing GOP state Treasurer John Kennedy trailing incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, by 19 percentage points, the Kennedy camp was not pleased. In fact, Kennedy spokesman Lenny Alcivar told reporters that those responsible for the poll were “smoking crack.” Unfortunately for Alcivar, he was not only referring to SLU’s faculty, but also to a handful of students that helped conduct the poll. Everybody who was anybody in the Louisiana Democratic Party immediately demanded an apology.

The Secretary of State Violated Federal Law

By all indications, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, a Republican, did not violate the National Voter Registration Act, but a story published recently by The New York Times does suggest as much. It cites a voter purge that removed 25,165 names from local rolls between July 23 and Aug. 27.

According to the NVRA, there are certain instances where this should not happen within 90 days preceding congressional races, and one purging was held in Louisiana on Oct. 4. In a legislative hearing following the printed bombshell, Dardenne told the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that registrars of voters in each parish are acting on their own based on a 21-day challenge law that allows them to remove voters if they die, get convicted of a felony, move, provide false information and other factors. Even though the blame was properly shifted, the Louisiana Democratic Party howled that its members were removed at a higher rate than Republicans. Dardenne says that’s because there are more Democrats in the state. The New Orleans-based Louisiana Justice Institute, a civil rights group, has also unearthed names of voters who have been removed from local rolls in error. In preparation, the state sent hundreds of paper provisional ballots to the larger parishes so that unregistered voters can use them to cast their votes. A panel of election officials will decide after the fact if the votes should count — and in the process could become the biggest post-election story out there.

Bobby Jindal is Going to be Vice President

Earlier this year, Jindal said over and over that he was not going to be the running mate of Republican presidential nominee John McCain. He was right. But that doesn’t mean Jindal isn’t looking toward 2012. Later this month, Jindal will be in Iowa, a must-stop state for presidential contenders. And what is he doing in Iowa, aside from raising money in another state? He’ll be speaking to the Family Policy Center, the kind of right wing, conservative group a Republican needs to succeed on the national level.

There’s No Way Bill Jefferson Will Make it Past the Primary

The contest to capture New Orleans’ 2nd Congressional District surprised everyone, especially those living outside the Crescent City. Who would have ever thought Jefferson would make it this far? It just goes to show that political bosses are alive and well in south Louisiana, and a reliable base can be built up by anyone — even long-term congressmen who hide money in their freezer for no good reason.

Mary Landrieu Was Supposed to Become a Nun

The final U.S. Senate debate between Kennedy and Landrieu yielded one nugget of insight toward the end, a relic from the Democrat’s childhood that probably caught many conservatives by surprise. When asked what she would be doing with her life if she were not holding elected office, Landrieu, a hardened politician by any standard, said she once considered becoming a full-time Christian minister. “It happened when I was a young girl, and it didn’t work out,” she said.
Constitutional Amendments Are Silly**

While most of the state’s public policy groups came out with voter guides supporting this year’s constitutional amendments, the New Orleans-based Bureau of Governmental Research took a more principled approach and only supported three out of the seven. On one amendment, the bureau simply stated that the “issue is too insignificant to warrant a constitutional amendment.”

Not including the seven proposals slated from this year’s ballot, Louisiana voters have considered 214 amendments since the 1974 Constitution was adopted. To date, 151 of those amendments have been approved. The concept of the constitution as a relatively permanent statement of basic law should always be remembered, says Jim Brandt, president of the Public Affairs Research Council in Baton Rouge, especially since it fades with the adoption of each new amendment. “In each case, voters should consider not only the merits of the amendment but also whether the proposed language belongs in the constitution,” Brandt says.

As for the 2008 election season as a whole, it’s almost a wrap. Granted, there will be another congressional runoff in Shreveport in December, and the 2010 U.S. Senate should pick up momentum beginning next year, but Louisiana is entering a downtime in its political cycle. You’ll no longer see attack ads on television, candidates will not be gathering for regular debates, and your mailbox will likewise experience a lighter load.

But behind the scenes, the scheming and positioning continues. As always, what you see is not what you get in Louisiana politics, as state Sen. Danny Martiny, a Metairie Republican, pointed out in a recent legislative session. “We’re not in the reality business,” Martiny said, “we’re in the perception business.”