The race for the next Lt. Governor is headed toward a run-off between Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne and Caroline Fayard, a political newcomer who, in less than two months, has adroitly emerged as a formidable candidate from almost complete obscurity.
Though somewhat under-reported by the state and local media, the primary for Lt. Governor was, perhaps, the most interesting election in the cycle: Five Republicans, including the Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, and three Democrats.
I, for one, was surprised that the Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, Roger Villere, decided to throw his hat in the ring, and I was even more surprised when he emerged as the candidate of choice for the fledgling Tea Party of Louisiana. As much as Tea Partiers seek to define themselves as an independent movement, it sure seemed weird that they would endorse Mr. Villere. The day before the election, I received no less than three robocalls from the Villere campaign, all leading with a statement about Mr. Villere representing the Tea Party.
I have to wonder: With four other Republicans in the race, including Jay Dardenne, the Louisiana Secretary of State and a conservative Republican, why, on earth, would the Tea Party endorse the Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party? Throughout the country, the Tea Party has frustrated establishment Republicans by fielding and running their own candidates in primaries, often defeating the so-called “mainstream” Republican candidate. The fact that Tea Partiers in Louisiana would endorse the State Chairman of the Republican Party is noteworthy and somewhat of an anomaly.
Only days before the election, Inside Louisiana News reported that the Louisiana Tea Party Federation, which was described as a “loose federation” of several dozen Tea Party organizations representing “thousands” of voters, was distancing itself from Mr. Villere, after reports that Mr. Villere and operative Chris Comeaux were attempted to create “200 Tea Party groups throughout the State.” Quoting:
According to a Louisiana Tea Party Federation member, Rob Gaudet, “Once it came to our attention that a statewide political candidate, Roger Villere, with the assistance of Chris Comeaux, was attempting to organize new tea party groups within Louisiana, we felt compelled to let the public and media know that the Louisiana Tea Party Federation is not affiliated with nor does it endorse the Tea Party of Louisiana, Chris Comeaux or any attempt by the GOP to create tea parties for its own benefit.”
According to an article on LA News Link, Chris Comeaux is the “organizer” of the Tea Party of Louisiana. A few weeks ago, I published an interview with Barry Hugghins, who is also a board member of the Tea Party of Louisiana. I asked Mr. Hugghins about the Tea Party of Louisiana’s endorsement of Roger Villere. He responded:
TPoL endorsed Roger Villere for Lt Governor, so we completely support his efforts. Of the people running for this office, it was our judgment that, of those actually qualified to do the job, Mr. Villere is the most fiscally conservative, and, thus, most closely represents the ideals and values of the Tea Party movement. As for Mr. Villere’s chairmanship of the state branch of a major political party, that had no relevance in our decision. The endorsement was for Roger Villere, the man, NOT Roger Villere, the political party chairman.
Notably, the first time I was contacted by Mr. Hugghins, he also forwarded an e-mail that appeared to be directed to the Tea Party of Louisiana’s other board members, including Mr. Comeaux.
Perhaps Mr. Villere’s position as Chairman had nothing to do with the Tea Party of Louisiana’s endorsement. It may have had more to do with a company named Eaux Films and someone named Patrick Bergeron. As The Advocate reported last month:
Republican Roger Villere’s latest campaign finance report reveals payments to two leaders of the Tea Party of Louisiana, which has endorsed his bid for lieutenant governor.
Villere’s report filed late last week included $7,000 in expenditures to Christopher Comeaux’s Eaux Films for “production costs.”
Comeaux, a director of the Tea Party, tape recorded a message that was phoned into Baton Rouge-area homes that supported Villere and criticized front-runner Republican Secretary of State Jay Dardenne.
Another $4,000 in campaign expenditures went to Patrick Bergeron for consulting work. Bergeron is chairman of the Tea Party PAC, a political action committee. On a prior report, Villere’s campaign paid Bergeron another $2,000.
Not only is Bergeron the chairman of the Tea Party PAC, he’s also the proprietor of LA NewsLink, the website that “broke” the story about Chris Comeaux of the Tea Party endorsing Roger Villere.
It’s almost embarrassing how easy it is to connect the dots. The man who is reportedly the “organizer” of the Tea Party of Louisiana is, literally, a paid consultant for Roger Villere, and the “news” of the Tea Party of Louisiana’s endorsement of Mr. Villere was published on a website owned by another one of his paid consultants. And we’re not talking about a little bit of money: We’re talking about thousands and thousands of dollars paid out in less than four months.
But there’s another thing funny about Mr. Villere’s campaign finance reports.
Roger Villere spent nearly $20,000 with a company named Sentinel 21.
Curiously, when you look up Sentinel 21 on the Secretary of State’s Corporation Database, you get nowhere. Either Mr. Villere has the name of the company wrong, the company was only just created (and the Secretary of State is simply slow to update its records), or the company is just a shell.
Either way, when you Google the address listed for Sentinel 21, you will find that the same address is listed in an Excel spreadsheet as the home of Dan Richey, the former director of Governor Mike Foster’s “Program on Abstinence” and a former State Representative who, today, makes a living as a political consultant. (I’m not giving out the man’s home address; if you want to double-check me, it’s already all online).
Perhaps more importantly to Mr. Villere, Dan Richey is also the “independent” political consultant for the Louisiana Family Forum. For the record, Mr. Richey may, technically, be an “independent” consultant, but he is one of only three staff members listed on the Louisiana Family Forum’s website.
I suppose I can overlook all of that. After all, Mr. Richey makes no effort to shy away from the label of “political consultant.” But Roger Villere was doling out thousands of dollars in checks to a company that, apparently, has not yet been registered by the Secretary of State, a company that is apparently headquartered at Mr. Richey’s residence. And instead of scratching beneath the surface, the media, most notably Jeff Crouere at New Orleans City Business, reported Mr. Richey’s endorsement of Roger Villere as if it was proof of Villere’s Christian conservative bona fides. Quoting (bold mine):
Also seeking a Christian coalition is state Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere. As he campaigns throughout the state for lieutenant governor, he is working very hard to line up support from evangelical conservatives and so far has met with significant success.
He has the endorsement of Dan Richey, former director of the governor’s program on abstinence and a prominent social conservative, and former Louisiana GOP chairman Mike Francis, a favorite of evangelical conservatives throughout the state.
In the end, of course, Roger Villere only received 7% of the vote. He was an establishment candidate who wanted to brand himself as grassroots.
I haven’t been able to verify whether or not Mr. Villere and Mr. Comeaux are, in fact, attempting to create 200 new Tea Party chapters in Louisiana, as the Louisiana Tea Party Federation claims. To me, the claim seems a little embellished, but regardless, it’s still interesting that the Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party would be so brazenly and actively attempting to claim such a huge stake in a movement that markets itself as independent and anti-establishment.
Even more interesting is that, despite Mr. Villere’s attempt to frame himself as the Tea Party candidate and despite the thousands of dollars he spent with consultants both directly and indirectly involved with Tea Party organizations, he finished in only fifth place, with less than 45,000 votes statewide.
Mr. Villere’s candidacy proves a few things about the Tea Party movement in Louisiana. For one, it’s completely fractured and disorganized, but more importantly, it’s never really been grassroots. It’s complete astro-turf, a subtle attempt at rebranding Louisiana conservatism without ever having to reorganize power.
With all due respect to Mr. Villere, it certainly does not appear that he earned the endorsements of the Tea Party of Louisiana and Dan Richey solely because of his platform. It’s impossible to overlook the payments given to Mr. Comeaux, Mr. Bergeron, and Mr. Richey and not believe that their support and advocacy were unrelated to the money apparently being doled out by Mr. Villere’s campaign.
I mean, c’mon.