Sunday, January 11, 2009

Louisiana's 2008 ...

John Maginnis (pictured) looks back at 2008 events that shaped Louisiana politics:

A historic year in national politics did not lack for precedents in Louisiana.

• Bobby Jindal's rocket ride. The last American politician before Jindal to attract as much national attention in his first year of statewide office will be sworn in as president in three weeks. Jindal's "new day for Louisiana" quickly turned into a new world for him when conservative commentators began touting him for vice president, which, we learn later, he declined to be considered for. Now he's traveling the country insisting he is not running for president in 2012.

• "Vulnerable" Landrieu victorious. Despite being targeted by Republicans as the most beatable Senate Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu ran strong on her post-storm record and growing seniority. She also waged a tougher campaign than Treasurer John Kennedy. In the words of columnist Clancy DuBos, she defined Kennedy before the former Democrat could redefine himself. She now is not only the state's senior statesman but also its undisputed connection to the Obama administration, in terms of projects and patronage.

• The pay-raise fiasco. For a legislative act that never took effect, the bill to raise state lawmakers' pay, like no other issue, ignited a firestorm that burned careers and singed the governor's sky-high popularity. New legislators learned quickly that tighter ethics laws and the biggest-ever personal tax cut counted for squat in face of their self-serving salary over-reach. The controversy also demonstrated how fast and hot a public cause can grow when fanned by the Internet and other forms of new media.

• Jefferson family values. Although he lost on nearly every pre-trial motion, indicted U.S. Rep. William Jefferson managed to keep winning elections, until he lost the one few thought he could.

• The improbable Mr. Cao. The most compelling political human interest story of the year belongs to Anh "Joseph" Cao of New Orleans, the former war refugee who is the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress, beating Jefferson in a huge upset. Starting with a small band of Republicans who believed in him and aided by the hurricane-delayed election schedule, the Cao campaign crossed party lines to become a civic movement. In a majority black district, his electoral future is uncertain but not untenable. He already has made history.

John Maginnis is an independent journalist and author on Louisiana politics. He wrote The Last Hayride and Cross to Bear, and oversees EMail John at


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