In 1993, when Jeff Landry, the future Attorney General of Louisiana, was 23 years old, he and one of his roommates, Biff James, worked as deputies in the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Department, deep in the heart of Cajun Country. At some point, their superiors realized that a large quantity of confiscated cocaine had gone missing from the evidence room, and it quickly became obvious that James was the most likely suspect.
A search warrant wouldn’t be necessary. Landry allowed officers to comb through his home on Berard Street in tiny St. Martinville, presumably without consulting his roommate, and there they discovered more than $10,000 worth of cocaine stashed below the floor boards. James was arrested, and a few months later, Landry resigned from the force.
Today, the former sheriff’s deputy is now the chief legal officer of the state of Louisiana, and only a year after taking office, Jeff Landry has repeatedly attempted to use his position as Attorney General to consolidate political power for himself and undermine the authority of his principal client, Gov. John Bel Edwards. He hasn’t been subtle, and he hasn’t been coy about his intentions. Jeff Landry isn’t really interested in running the Attorney General’s office; he’s interested in running a campaign for governor. It’s the biggest open secret in Louisiana politics. And he seems willing to do whatever it takes, even if it requires breaking his family apart, to get what he wants.
Nearly two decades after his roommate’s arrest, when Landry ran for the Congressional seat left open by Charlie Melancon, the story resurfaced. The campaign manager of his Democratic opponent slammed him in a press release. “There are only two explanations,” she said. “Either Jeff Landry was a dirty cop and knew about the drugs, or he was the worst cop ever and couldn’t figure out that $10,000 worth of cocaine was being sold out of his house.”
It didn’t make a difference: Landry won handily, riding high on the wave of the Tea Party.
(When he ran for Attorney General in 2015, Landry released a bizarre two-and-a-half minute long digital commercial– under the caption “COCAINE AND A POLITICIAN”- that attempted to reframe his roommate’s arrest as an example of Landry’s “courage.”)
During his brief stint in Washington, D.C., Jeff Landry sought to make a name for himself with what many believed to be immature theatrics: He turned down an invitation to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House, earning praise from those on the far-right who never accepted Obama’s legitimacy and condemnation from many of his moderate conservative colleagues and Louisiana’s largest newspaper, The Times-Picayune. “It is more than a little arrogant,” Norm Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute told columnist Jarvis DeBerry. “It belittles the office of the presidency and shows that Landry has little understanding of the political process, the role of the constitutional institutions, much less basic politeness.”
And this wasn’t the only time in Congress that Landry revealed his arrogance, ignorance, and basic lack of decorum. In 2010, when President Obama delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress in the aftermath of the largest environmental disaster in American history- the BP oil spill, Landry held up a handmade sign reading, “Drilling = Jobs,” a flagrant show for the cameras that violated protocol and a brazenly disrespectful act that undermined Louisiana’s position with the White House at a time in which it was most critical.
The next year, when Landry made an unannounced visit to the New Orleans office of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, he was so outraged that he had to wait twenty minutes before being informed the bureau’s officials were unavailable and would need to reschedule that he publicly compared them to “the Gestapo.” The director of the BOEMRE, Michael Bromwich, decided to cancel the meeting with then-Congressman Landry. “They (my staff) are aware, as I am sure you are, that the Gestapo was the German internal security police under the Nazis, known for its terrorist methods,” he wrote to Landry. “Your comparison of the minor inconvenience you experienced to the tactics and methods of the Nazi secret police is simply unacceptable from anyone, but especially from a public official.”
Columnist Stephanie Grace responded in The Times-Picayune a few days later, “…(F)or sheer childish petulance, the award goes to U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, hands down.”
Landry served only a single term after redistricting collapsed his seat and required him to run, unsuccessfully, against Charles Boustany, a moderate Republican incumbent from Lafayette. However, he wasn’t content to go quietly.
On his final day in Congress, Landry published a scathing rant about Speaker John Boehner on the online conservative publication Breitbart, urging his fellow Republicans to abandon Boehner, predicting that, if they refused, they would lose their majority in the 2014 midterms, and arguing that Boehner capitulated too often to President Obama.
John Boehner kept his seat, of course, and Republicans maintained control. By that point, however, Jeff Landry had his sights on a different office, governor of Louisiana.
Unfortunately for him, the timing was off; it wasn’t the right year: He’d have to run against three of the most well-known Republican politicians in Louisiana- U.S. Senator David Vitter, Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne, and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle.
Instead, Landry- who earned his law degree much later in life than most and who rarely, if ever, saw the inside of a courtroom- would run for Attorney General, the perfect launching pad, bully pulpit, and an almost guaranteed win. His main opponent, the incumbent Buddy Caldwell, was a former prosecutor from Northeast Louisiana who somehow managed to earn the distrust of both Republicans and Democrats when he defected to the Republican Party in 2011.
Landry, a Catholic conservative from South Louisiana, should have had little problem knocking off Caldwell, a Jewish moderate whose politics seemed to tilt with the wind, provided he got an assist from the most unlikely of allies.
Louisiana Democratic Party officials focused almost all of their attention toward the governor’s election- the top of the ticket. With the exception of Chris Tyson, an immensely qualified African-American LSU Law professor running for Secretary of State who raised more than $300,000, there was never much of a concerted or coordinated effort to recruit or promote candidates for statewide downticket races. Democrats, perhaps wisely, had their eyes on the prize: Electing one of their own to replace Bobby Jindal.
So, when Geri Baloney, an African-American attorney from the small town of Garyville in St. John the Baptist Parish who had already lost two campaigns for district attorney several years ago, announced her candidacy for Attorney General, Democrats understandably paid very little attention. Baloney was a lackluster candidate, to put it kindly.
She raised less than $30,000- which includes personal loans of at least $11,000- and apparently spent more than a third of it on radio advertisements with Pure Media, LLC of Baton Rouge, which, according to the Secretary of State, is owned by Denise Rankin and operated out of a single-family home.
On the night of the primaries in 2015, Buddy Caldwell finished first, Landry in second, and Baloney in third, and a couple of weeks afterward, Baloney- who had assailed Landry on the campaign trail for his opposition to the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage, stunned everyone and endorsed Jeff Landry. She encouraged her voters, who comprised 18% of the electorate, to support the darling of the Tea Party.
In the run-off election, Landry coasted to victory.
Nearly a year later, Louisiana voters learned that Landry hired Geri Baloney’s daughter, Quendi, a convicted felon on three charges of fraud, for an annual salary of $53,000 to work, of all places, in his office’s fraud division.
Quendi works for a man who vehemently opposes the Affordable Care Act, which has expanded heath care coverage to more than 300,000 Louisiana citizens, and who believes that the government should be free to fire employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In the last year and a half, Quendi has earned more than triple what her mother loaned her own campaign.
Stay tuned for Chapter Two.