Notes on the race to replace Charlie Melancon in the La. 3rd congressional district

It’s unclear whether Jeff Landry’s win in the Republican primary for Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District which Charlie Melancon (D-La) is now resigning from in order to run for Senate was more about anti-incumbency or pro-tea party sentiment. Either way, Hunt Downer took a beating, winning a majority only in his home parish. Even in Jefferson Parish where Downer, a former Democrat, enjoyed the endorsement of the local Republican Party, Jeff Landry received more than double the votes Downer did.  Landry was 163 votes short of winning the GOP nomination outright, so they will proceed to a runoff on October 2nd.

While Jeff Landry has been involved with local politics for some time and is not a total political outsider, he’s never held office.  Downer, on the other hand, won his first election in 1975. Downer supported the hated Stelly tax, which increased income tax rates in exchange for eliminating some “temporary” state sales taxes. There are few things in this world less temporary than a tax. While the Stelly tax was at least a more honest approach, it certainly did nothing to trim government expenditures, nor was that Downer’s only vote in favor of raising taxes.

Both men had similarly conservative platforms, but Downer’s lengthy voting record was inconsistent with his currently stated views, and Landry’s a newcomer who has not yet abused our trust. And although Downer is currently channeling Churchill, nothing is likely to change the outcome: Jeff Landry will be the Republican candidate.  

There are already calls for Downer to quit, including one by popular local radio host Moon Griffon. As with the Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski battle in Alaska, the real question is will the established politician exit gracefully, or stay and do so much damage that a Democrat can take the seat? Murkowski chose to leave peaceably – and ensured that she’ll still have a seat at the political table as a lobbyist or in some other political job. Downer’s continuance, at this point, looks a lot more like straight revenge for a bitterly fought campaign than an act based on a realistic hope of winning.

If Downer concedes now, Jeff Landry will be in a much better position to fight off the Democratic political newcomer, Ravi Sangisetty. But even if he doesn’t, given the electoral mood this year and a Tea Party even more energized to get out the vote since Landry’s primary win was only 163 votes short of not requiring the runoff with Downer, Landry has an excellent chance of winning.

The bottom line is that this year, the safest professional politicians are conservative. Downer did spend thirty years as a fairly conservative Democrat, and about ten as a moderate Republican. He’s not a conservative Republican, and he is much too well established to reinvent himself as a conservative. In a year when the country is turning back toward the right, there is no good reason for a state as conservative as Louisiana to send someone who is at best a moderate, to Congress. 

Author note: Although Hunt Downer did vote for a variety of tax increases during his service in the Louisiana state legislature, his campaign responded to this article that he did not, in fact, vote for the Stelly tax increase, and that he actually proposed a repeal of the Stelly tax a year after its passage in a September 10, 2003 letter to the Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate.  Laura Curtis sincerely apologizes for the error.

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