Louisiana Politics: LSU journalism dean talks about elections
LaPolitics: We saw some big news come out of LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication two weeks ago about the poll that your staff conducted in partnership with the Cook Political Report. Consultant James Carville was a big part of that as well. How did this project come about?
Manship School of Mass Communication Dean Martin Johnson: Well, James was a part of it primarily because it was his suggestion and he put a lot of work into helping us get if off the ground. However, the real work of it, in terms of conducting the survey itself, was done by Mike Henderson, the director of the Public Policy Lab here at the Manship School. So there were several of us that worked on it — Mike, me, James and Jenee Slocum. We put together a midterms survey with questions that were essentially repeats from a similar project in 2010, assessing the first midterm elections that Barack Obama faced. By replicating those questions, we could make some interesting comparisons between President Trump’s first midterms and President Obama’s first midterms.
LaPolitics: This was a project that has gotten a lot of attention outside of Louisiana, especially on Capitol Hill. What does it mean for the Manship School and the Reilly Center to be producing these big-ticket type projects?
Dean Johnson: First and foremost, we want to be part of the national conversation. We want to lead the national conversation. And to do that, you have got to do relevant work, so I think that was a core part of James’ motivation, was wanting to encourage that kind of national-scope ambition. We see in a lot of things we do, we have that national-scope ambition, so it fit right in... That was a special thing, as well as getting into the depth assessments of the president, assessments of the politics of the midterms. It was way beyond the generic ballot horserace kind of survey, which is what we usually see.
LaPolitics: Without revealing too much, can you tell us about some of the projects you have planned for next year with our statewide elections coming up?
Dean Johnson: Of course, everybody should look to our annual Louisiana Survey. We will absolutely do the annual Louisiana survey. In terms of other specific state projects, we’re definitely talking about how to contribute. We have always been a place, especially since the inception of the Reilly Center, that tried to convene interesting, policy-relevant conversations for the state of Louisiana, and of course, we will continue to do that into 2019. So look for more on the horizon.
Edwards, Lee and Who Dat
In the wild and ambitious world of Louisiana’s 64 top cops, late Sheriff Harry Lee (1932-2007) of Jefferson Parish still stands apart.
For starters, Lee, the son of Chnese immigrants, was the country’s only Asian-American sheriff. As a lawman, he was flamboyant, innovative and outspoken. Lee had a reputation for saying what was on his mind, friends recall, even if it sometimes resulted in an embarrassing gaffe.
Nevertheless, many Jefferson Parish voters loved him. By the time Lee ran for a fourth term in 1991, he was firmly ensconced in the sheriff’s office and faced only token opposition. He also had the advantage of sitting on a huge war chest. With Lee feeling secure about his own electoral fortunes, he decided to pitch in and help his friend, Edwin Edwards, who was seeking a fourth term in the Governor’s Mansion.
The assistance came in the form of a $100,000 media buy. But like most things in Louisiana politics, it wasn’t exactly a straight-forward deal.
The ad was technically for Lee’s re-election campaign, according to "Wild About Harry: A Biography of Harry Lee"by Deno Seder, which allowed the sheriff to circumvent the rules on maximum contributions to other candidates. Lee not only put up the cash, but he produced the spot as well.
From behind the camera — sort of — Lee directed a spot that focused the spot on how, Edwards had been able to keep the New Orleans Saints in Louisiana with some assistance from Lee.
The spot opened with Edwards standing outside of the Superdome and speaking directly to the camera. He talked about how Lee had helped him recruit Tom Benson to buy the team — before throwing in a good-natured joke about the sheriff’s physique.
“With me as quarterback and Harry Lee as the front four, we scored a touchdown for Louisiana,” Edwards said in the spot.
After Edwards hit his punchline, Lee walked into the frame, gave a thumbs up and yelled “Who Dat!” before a narrator intoned, “Re-elect Harry Lee, sheriff.”
In his book "Cross to Bear: America’s Most Dangerous Politics," LaPolitics founder John Maginnis called the idea “one of the most brilliant uses of soft money and the cleverest perversion of campaign finance law.”
They said it
“I’m a millennial. I’m just from a different millennium.”
—Former Sen. A.G. Crowe, on his appeal to young voters, at an LSU candidate forum
“I’m not afraid to stand up to Putin or the Russians.”
—Rep. Julie Stokes, on election security, in The News-Star
“I’m tired of people stealing my money.”
—Shreveport mayoral candidate Lee O. Savage, on corruption, in The Shreveport Times
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.