The Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority:

The Third Wave

Somewhere, there is a picture of three members of the Louisiana House of Representatives taken in the late 1990s. The three House members in that picture are Louis "Woody" Jenkins, Tony Perkins and David Vitter. Though they only served one term together, the relationship among those three combine the threads that led to the formation of the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority (LCRM).

Of the three, Jenkins is the key figure.

1996: The First Wave

Woody Jenkins has been a major player in conservative politics on the national level for more than three decades. This profile from Wikipedia focuses on his public political work, but his behind the scenes work is where he made his national connections. His rise in conservative politics coincides with his rise in the multi-level marketing firm Amway. Jenkins' political career benefited greatly from his affiliation with Amway.

Jenkins was the first executive director of the Council for National Policy (CNP). The CNP was co-founded by Morton Blackwell, who grew up in Louisiana and played a key role in what became the critical years after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in which the Republican Party began to grow beyond its ideological conservative base by including whites who fled the Democratic Party in opposition to racial integration. Blackwell, who is eight years older than Jenkins, probably mentored Jenkins' rise in the CNP and national conservative politics, a role that Jenkins would later replicate in his relationship with Tony Perkins.

Jenkins proved his national conservative bonafides during the Reagan years when, at the urging of his Amway mentor Dr. Alton Ochsner, he formed "Friends of the Americas," an organization ostensibly formed to deliver food and other essential aid to the families of the Contras who fighting Nicraragua's Sandinista government. This effort placed Jenkins at a nexus of one of the key ideological fights of the decade and made him a player on one end of the Iran-Contra Scandal in which money from illegal arms sales to the Iranian government were used to buy arms for the Contras' war against Nicaragua after Congress had voted to cut off funding. That was allegedly not the only way the Contras got their funding.

Friends of the Americas, Inc., was never directly implicated in the arms shipments to the Contras, although congressional investigators believed chartered planes used to deliver FOA goods carried arms on separate flights into the region. And there is a picture of Jenkins posing barefoot and squatting in a river in Honduras holding an M-16.

In the mid-80's, south Louisiana was a hot-bed of support for the Contras. Contra leader Adolfo Calero made a number of fund-raising swings through the region, including trips to Lafayette.

This work won Jenkins the admiration of the CNP and other conservatives (including CNP member Jack Abramoff). Jenkins moved to collect on it in the next decade he ran for the United States Senate in 1996.

Jenkins came within about 5,000 contested votes from becoming one of Louisiana's U.S. Senators in 1996. His campaign manager was Tony Perkins from Baton Rouge, who, it was later revealed, bought David Duke's campaign mailing list from the Klansman for use in the run-off race against Mary Landrieu.

Jenkin's challenge to the results of that election went on for 10 months after the election (with substantial financial support from national conservatives and his Amway allies). His campaign and that challenge constitute the first wave of national conservative attempts to take over Louisiana politics.

2002: The Second Wave

The second wave came in the run-off for Landrieu's re-election bid. Because of Louisiana's open primary laws, the run-off for that seat came after all other Senate seats had been decided. Control of the Senate had already been won by the Republicans by the time the Louisiana run-off was held, but millions of dollars from outside parties that flooded the state, as well as campaign stops by George Bush and Dick Cheney, made clear that Republicans coveted Landrieu's seat.

Now, this also coincided with the period in time when Jack Abramoff and his associates were bilking the Coushatta Indians (among others) of millions of dollars to block the Jena Choctaws from getting a casino license in Louisiana. Ralph Reed, it was later learned, was called in to take some of the Indian casino money from Abramoff to fire up anti-gambling Christians to oppose the Indian casino for which Abramoff and Reed were not working. That cash made its way into the hands of numerous Louisiana lawmakers.

By this time, David Vitter serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. Vitter was either a willing participant in the Abramoff/Reed scam or a dupe. Either way, Vitter wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs seeking to block the Jena tribe from getting their casino license. Vitter did some additional work on Abramoff's behalf. Abramoff rewarded Vitter by later allowing the then-congressman use Abramoff's D.C. restaurant for a fundraiser that garnered Vitter's Senate campaign more than $12,000. Vitter was not billed for use of the restaurant.

Despite the strong push — the flood of money, the efforts by all manner of conservative and Republican organizations and operatives — Landrieu was re-elected by a 52-48 margin. And the second wave of national conservative efforts to take over Louisiana politics crashed without the desired result.

2006-2008: The Third Wave

Now comes the third wave — the LCRM.

It ties together all the threads that Morton Blackwell (followed by Woody Jenkins) began laying more than four decades ago. The LCRM was started by Vitter and his wife Wendy, but it is modeled on Tom DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority. It draws heavily, though, on the campaign finance lists of George Bush's presidential campaigns and privately held companies in the oil and gas service industries. It is also drawing some support from people outside Louisiana, most notably Houston homebuilder and GOP funder Bob Perry.

While the focus of the LCRM this year is to buy a House, a recent article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune reveals that their ultimate goal is Senator Landrieu's seat — the immediate goal of the first and second waves. If their aim is to raise $2.5 million for the state election cycle, their obsession with Landrieu can only drive them to more extravagant feats of fund-raising next year.

The LCRM's obsession with the Landrieus surfaced last year when Joseph Canizaro and other LCRM-ers backed the re-election of Ray Nagin as mayor of New Orleans over Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu —introducing some doubt as to their commitment to “nonpartisan reform." The thing to understand about the LCRM is that they are opportunists who are attempting to use the impact of the 2005 storms — particularly Katrina — to enable the change that they have not otherwise been able to win. In their way of thinking, one of the good things about Katrina was the great African American diaspora that resulted. Now, developers like Canizaro can take their stab at redeveloping the New Orleans of their dreams — which is remarkably like the New Orleans of the early 1950s when whites held majority status and the political and economic power that accompanied that majority status.

So, apparently counting on Nagin to continue his ineffectual ways as mayor — and thus, hamstring the city's recovery — LCRM folks backed his re-election. But, Nagin's performance has been so awful that it is driving professionals from the city. The resulting brain drain may produce what the LCRM fears: New Orleans' return as what Nagin called a "chocolate city."

So, Nagin's ineffectiveness may prove to be more robust than the LCRM imagined and it could throw a wrench into the LCRM plans to build a theme-park New Orleans and remake Louisiana in the process. Add to that the fact that the LCRM has had trouble attracting candidates for some of its targeted seats, and a certain air of desperation begins to insinuate itself into the statements by the organization's leaders and their campaigns.

It's the Power, Stupid!

The LCRM's relentless focus on the campaigns and not the issues reveals what the heart of this conservative obsession is about: Power, not policy.

Using the Texans for a Republican Majority track record as the guide, my prediction is that we'll be in for wild ride if the LCRM succeeds. A Republican-controlled Louisiana Legislature beholden to LCRM will use recent Census population estimates as the basis to push for a redrawing of Louisana's congressional district map prior to the 2008 elections, thereby trying to increase the number of Republicans in the U.S. House through manipulation of the reapportionment powers of the state Legislature. That's precisely what happened in Texas.

Like their political role models Tom DeLay and Karl Rove, David and Wendy Vitter have set out to create what they believe will be a permanent Republican majority in Louisiana. They intend to accomplish this by engaging in the kind of smear campaigns for which DeLay and Rove became so deservingly noted. They will fund those campaigns with the largesse of a small group of well-heeled supporters who are willing to write very large checks in the hope of accomplishing their ends.

If they succeed, it will make the Lousiana House (and possibly the Senate) the best little whore house in Baton Rouge. Senator Vitter, at least, should feel right at home there.

More to come — Soon!

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Louisiana Democrat2Democrat by Mike Stagg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.