Jeremy Alford: New dynamic emerges when it's Republican vs. Republican
Louisiana voters began the process of fully embracing Republican candidates around 2007, as registrations revealed a weakening of the Democratic Party and special interests put money behind efforts to elect more conservatives. That’s when voters started sending more surrogates from the Grand Old Party than ever to the Legislature and placing others of their ilk in higher elected offices.
During the subsequent years it became apparent that Republicans were well on their way to statewide dominance, with a sprinkling of exceptions — so much so that it became clear to political observers that Republicans would eventually fracture and, in essence, commence with the eating of their own.
Today, the GOP has several claims to fame in Louisiana, including:
—One of the fastest growing voter demographics in the Pelican State
—A supermajority in our state Senate
—A near supermajority in the House
—Banner-bearers in five of Louisiana’s six congressional districts
—A stronghold on our two U.S. Senate seats
—Party members in each statewide elected office except one (governor)
—Simple majorities on the state Supreme Court, Public Service Commission and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
While such dominance is unquestionable, lopsided party representation has played out in a variety of ways, depending on the public body or electoral trend — and it hasn’t always spelled success.
In the state House, for instance, Republican control recently led to a decisive internal election for speaker where party diehards and hard-right Republicans lost the coveted gavel to a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democratic legislators. The resulting battle scars run deep, and will likely haunt the chamber at each turn this term.
These’s even notable friction on the local level. The New Year kicked off with Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory taking office for the first time, followed soon after by the resignation of his chief administrative officer. Guillory’s critics reportedly believe the falling out had to do with seats on the Lafayette Republican Parish Executive Committee, although the mayor denies the upcoming GOP vs. GOP races had anything to do with the matter.
Last week I discussed the broader topic with Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. In an interview from the Four Oaks restaurant in the Washington Hilton, Nungesser said Louisiana’s mainline political parties need healthy doses of civility and could benefit from touches of independent thinking.
Nungesser has found himself at odds with far right factions of his own party in recent months, fueled largely by his friendly approach to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ re-election bid and his new administration.
When Edwards was first elected in 2015, Nungesser offered the governor a gentleman’s agreement — Nungesser promised he wouldn’t speak ill of Edwards and he wouldn’t support anyone else for the state’s premier political job.
“It was the best decision I made,” said Nungesser.
“I have to be able to put Louisiana ahead of my job and I know I did the right thing in my heart. People don’t realize that I have to get all of our contracts approved through the administration. There’s a good relationship there, an important relationship.”
So, naturally, when Republican businessman Eddie Rispone challenged Edwards last year, Nungesser stayed neutral, which got him frozen out of a number of high-profile political events in 2019, including visits by President Donald Trump.
“I’m never going to like everything the governor does, and I spoke out and against the oil lawsuits,” he added. “I’m not going to fight just for the sake of picking a fight. There have got to be other people out there like me that this makes them sick to the stomach.”
Nungesser said some of those “other people” probably include GOP members of the state House, who were recently pressured by Attorney General Jeff Landry and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy to oppose the election of state House Speaker Clay Schexnayder.
“You literally had people fearing retribution from members of their own party,” said Nungesser.
On the issue of Trump and his unfolding impeachment trial, Nungesser said he was “disgusted” by how some Democrats are handling the matter.
“It’s horrible that every little thing the president does ends up being ridiculed on late night talk shows. He’s not getting enough credit for what he has done for the economy. That kind of formula is why people are getting turned off of voting and seeking public office.”
As for the next gubernatorial election in 2023, Nungesser said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of becoming a candidate. And neither have a handful of other Republicans.
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Alford on Twitter