In Louisiana and elsewhere, 2010 was one of the meanest political seasons on record. Rancor ruled the day in statewide elections, and it was not a good time to be a Democrat — no matter how "conservative" you might be. The national Republican juggernaut, fueled by Tea Party fervor, was so strong that it even swept Louisiana into the national political mainstream. That's saying something.
Time now for our perennial political postmortem. Herewith our assessment of the electoral carnage, starting with ...
1. The Louisiana GOP
Louisiana finally joined the national political mainstream this election season as Sen. David Vitter's re-election campaign became a referendum on President Barack Obama — as were congressional and senatorial elections all across the country. That was great news for Vitter. His huge margin of victory (56.5 percent to 37.7 percent for Democrat Charlie Melancon) showed that Louisiana voters dislike Obama even more than they dislike "serious sins." Now that Vitter's scandals are behind him, look for him to retake his seat at the GOP grown-ups table, both in D.C. and in Louisiana. Elsewhere on the ballot, Republicans now hold six of seven statewide offices, thanks to Secretary of State Jay Dardenne's convincing win over Democratic newcomer Caroline Fayard in the race to succeed Mitch Landrieu as lieutenant governor. (Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, the only statewide elected Democrat, has to be feeling pretty nervous these days.)
Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao lost his bid to hold onto his improbable seat in the U.S. House, but the numbers were always against him. Meanwhile, Republican Jeff Landry rolled to victory in the 3rd Congressional District, giving the GOP the seat currently held by Melancon. The Louisiana GOP had one distinct advantage over the national party, however: It was moving from a position of strength, having captured a modern record number of legislative seats and statewide offices in 2007 — as opposed to the thumping the national party took in 2008.
2. Jefferson Parish Business Leaders
Business folks in Jefferson set out months ago, through several civic and professional organizations, to sweep all incumbents off the parish school board. They didn't succeed fully, but they did replace five of nine incumbents, which makes them the new force for reform in parish public schools. Business leaders also generally support new parish president John Young, whose popularity among voters convinced Councilman At-Large Tom Capella (who was set to run against Young for parish president) to seek the assessor's job in April instead.
3. African-American Candidates
In New Orleans, it was a good season for black Democrats, who took back the congressional seat held for the last two years by Republican U.S. Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao. The numbers tilted heavily in favor of Cao's Democratic challenger, state Rep. Cedric Richmond, but Cao campaigned hard. In the end, Richmond made it look easy, winning 65 percent of the vote to Cao's 33 percent. Elsewhere, Veronica Henry won a seat at First City Court and Candice Bates-Anderson captured a seat at Juvenile Court — both over strong white opponents.
4. Arnie Fielkow
The New Orleans at-large councilman made the NORD reform referendum a personal crusade, and its passage reflected as much on him as on the merits of the proposal. Fielkow is a true believer in the power of organized youth athletics and other NORD programs to transform lives of young people. He put every ounce of his political capital on the line in support of the proposition, and its overwhelming passage on Oct. 2 (with 74 percent of the vote) boosted his stock even higher. Of course, the children of New Orleans are big winners here as well.
5. State Lawmakers
Two of the constitutional amendments that voters approved this election season will give lawmakers some relief. Amendment 1 on Oct. 2 advances the starting date (and ending date) of annual legislative sessions, which will give lawmakers more time off in the summer to be with their families. Amendment 1 on the Nov. 2 ballot prohibits pay raises for public officials (including leges) during their current terms of office. Henceforth, any pay raises must take effect after the next round of elections. Lawmakers created a political firestorm when they voted themselves huge pay raises in 2008. This amendment gives them a fig leaf of political cover going into the 2011 elections — and a political placebo for voters, who would likely rise up again if anybody tries to broach the subject of pay raises.
Which brings us to ...
1. Gov. Bobby Jindal
By not getting involved in statewide elections on behalf of fellow Republicans, the governor effectively forfeited the political game inside Louisiana — although he played hard in several other states, which only proves he has national ambitions. And when you forfeit, you lose. The governor's absenteeism was called out by LSU's student body president, who penned letters to the editor in states where Jindal was campaigning and fundraising. The letters went viral — and it represented one of the few instances of somebody successfully tagging Jindal. On another Jindal front, Jay Dardenne's unexpectedly large margin of victory over Democratic newcomer Caroline Fayard takes the wind out of rumors that interim Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle — a Jindal favorite — changed parties in order to run for the No. 2 spot himself next fall on a Jindal ticket. Dardenne, in fact, set the high-water mark on Nov. 2, garnering 4,000 more votes than Sen. David Vitter. Speaking of Vitter, his landslide re-election shows that even wounded Republicans don't need Bobby Jindal to win big in Louisiana — and not being needed is never a good thing for a governor going into an election year.
2. Louisiana Democrats
The state Democratic Party stands today in pretty much the same place that the national Republican Party stood right after Barack Obama and the Democrats swept into power in 2008. As Obama put it last week, they got shellacked. Five years ago, Democrats held all but one of the seven statewide offices in Louisiana; today they hold just one. Next year, Republicans are poised to take control of the state House of Representatives and possibly the Senate, which would give the GOP control of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.
3. The Jefferson Parish Machine
No, the parish isn't run by a well-oiled political machine with a heavy-handed boss at the top, but collectively most incumbents comprise what voters see as a political machine — and they're tired of it. New parish president John Young is hardly a fresh face, but he has honed his "outsider" and "reformer" image so effectively that most others in parish government look like members of Tammany Hall by comparison. Virtually every other member of the parish council and Sheriff Newell Normand wanted Tom Capella to become parish president after Aaron Broussard resigned in January, but Young's popularity proved to be too much to overcome. In the parish school board elections, every incumbent faced an organized, well-financed challenger — and five of them won't be coming back. Now it's up to Young and the business community to show that outsiders can take the reins of government and make it work ... which typically takes a lot of "insider" knowledge and political skill.
4. The Local NAACP
The NAACP is a great organization with a long tradition of civil rights advocacy, but its opposition to the NORD reform was politically off the mark. For starters, a citywide, biracial coalition drafted the model for the charter change, and the measure had across-the-board support from community organizations in all parts of town. Most puzzling was the NAACP's claim that the proposal would "privatize" NORD. After Mayor Mitch Landrieu convinced the City Council to tweak the appointment process for the proposed recreation commission, all of the appointees will either be appointed by public officials or be public officials themselves. Moreover, the meetings of the commission and its fundraising foundation will be open to the public, and all commission members are subject to financial disclosure laws. The referendum passed with 74 percent of the vote — a true mandate for NORD.