Jim Beam column:Vitter paved way for Landry

Published 7:12 am Saturday, July 6, 2024

Former U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Metairie built the state’s Republican Party into a major political force and current GOP Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry has enhanced that power in just the six months he’s been in office.

While a state representative from 1992 to 1999, Vitter sponsored the state’s current legislative term limits legislation. He also created the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority PAC that helped elect many Republican legislators.

The state Senate had 24 Democrats and 15 Republicans after the 2007 election. The House had 53 Democrats, 50 Republicans and 2 independent lawmakers.

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Those Senate numbers flipped after the 2011 elections. The Senate had 24 Republicans and 15 Democrats. The House had 58 Republicans, 45 Democrats and the 2 independents.

Vitter lost the 2015 runoff for governor to Democrat John Bel Edwards and left the Senate. A 2016 report by The Associated Press said Landry was taking over as the figurehead of Vitter’s Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority.

Landry at the time was the new state attorney general. He said many of the PAC’s original founders wanted new leadership of the PAC. Two of those “big-ticket” GOP donors were shipbuilder Donald “Boysie” Bollinger of Lockport and real estate developer Joseph Canizaro of New Orleans.

Landry said at the time the PAC had no problem challenging Republicans in the Legislature when they weren’t conservative enough. Like Congress, the Legislature now has a similar ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus.

In 2020, term limits for the first time ousted 38 of the state’s 105 representatives and 16 of its 39 senators. The current Senate has 28 Republicans and 11 Democrats. The House has 73 Republicans and 32 Democrats. The GOP  has more than a veto-proof two-thirds vote in each chamber.

The Advocate reported during the recent regular legislative session that Landry would appoint 150 chairs of state boards and commissions under a measure that the newspaper said “expands the governor’s already considerable power.”

The Senate didn’t allow the governor to appoint the commissioner of higher education and presidents of state universities, but that hasn’t deterred Landry. He has backed Jimmy Genovese, an associate justice of the state Supreme Court to be the next president of Northwestern State in Natchitoches.

Mark Romero, recently named by Landry to be chair of the board that will pick the president, has shortened the selection process that gives an advantage to Genovese.

Genovese told the newspaper he thought someone was joking when he was first approached about becoming Northwestern’s president.

“I was just minding my business,” Genovese said. “This wasn’t even on the radar.”

The Advocate a day later explained why Landry wants Genovese as Northwestern’s president: “Landry can help a friend land a coveted position, and he can replace Genovese with a more conservative justice on the seven-member court.”

Landry said he has known Genovese and his family for three decades, and, “I do not want to push Jimmy off the court one bit. I’m responding to the stakeholders at Northwestern. His name surfaced. I couldn’t think of anybody who could better steer that university out of the problems it has.”

The new Supreme Court election map that Landry supported created a second majority-Black district. It gives an advantage to Bill Stiles,a former chief deputy of Landry’s when he was AG who is a judge on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal. Stiles can now run for the Supreme Court in 2028.

The Advocate said if Genovese gets the Northwestern presidency, Cade Cole, an attorney and administrative law judge in Lake Charles, is the leading candidate to win Genovese’s seat. State Attorney General Liz Murrill, who is close to the governor, has already said she would back Cole.

The 3rd Supreme Court District after the districts were redrawn includes Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, DeSoto, Evangeline, Jeff Davis, Natchitoches, Sabine and Vernon parishes, 72 precincts in Caddo Parish and 40 precincts in St.  Landry Parish. Lake Charles is now considered the new political epicenter of the 3rd District.

The Advocate said Landry wants to move the state Supreme Court farther to the right and asked a question many in Louisiana are also asking: “What’s his next move?

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than six decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or jim.beam.press@gmail.com.


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