It used to be that if you wanted to run your fingers through the soil of Louisiana’s political birthplace, you’d head up to the pea patches of Winnfield. The sleepy town in north-central Louisiana, which boasts roughly 5,700 residents, gave us gubernatorial lackey Oscar K. Allen, his mentor Huey P. Long, Uncle Earl and a half-dozen other Longs who have occupied important posts in the state Legislature, Congress and Armed Forces. Some folks jest there’s something in the water up there, but it’s obviously been more about consolidating power through lineage.
These days, the jugular of modern Louisiana politics can be found in Crowley. But in comparison to its northern counterpart, it’s more of a Cajun Camelot, settled snuggly between the winding bayous of Acadiana. In more recent years, this south Louisiana haven, host of the International Rice Festival, has gifted us with four-term governor (and jailed felon) Edwin Edwards and his protégé John Breaux, a high-powered lobbyist who was formerly a high-powered U.S. senator. Chris John, a former congressman who is now shilling for the oil and gas industry, is also a Crowley native.
The Acadia Parish seat, however, isn’t finished unloading its political gifts on Louisiana — and the nation. Jimmy Breaux (no relation to John) has seemingly come out of nowhere to capture the hopes and dreams of America’s voters. If Crowley has a favorite son at this given moment in history, it is indeed Jimmy Breaux. He’s touting a poll that has his campaign 20 points ahead in the race for president. It’s a grassroots effort — an impressive one — that is flying below the Obama-and-McCain radar, due chiefly to his reluctance to play the same game as the Republican and Democratic frontrunners. “They’re a bunch of a**-kissers,” Breaux says. “The media loves that.”
Maybe that’s why the “Jimmy Breaux for President” campaign committee has taken its message the viral route, using marketing techniques that rely on pre-existing social networks, like MySpace and YouTube, to increase brand awareness. Or maybe it’s because Jimmy Breaux doesn’t actually exist, at least not in the political realm we’re used to seeing in real life. Breaux is the center of attention in Dirty Politics, a dark comedy about a fatally-flawed Louisiana senator running for president.
Thousands of people have already viewed the Web videos of Jimmy Breaux, portrayed by John Valdetero weighing in on everything from race (“A Bro in the White House!”) to global warming (“We’re going to make a pre-emptive strike on Antarctica, just blow it apart.”) His wife, Rita Breaux, played impeccably with scene-stealing performances by Melissa Peterman, appears in a few of the Web videos, drinking longnecks and wreaking havoc. In the film, recently shot and screened in Baton Rouge, her boisterous female lead is referred to as “Hurricane Rita” by staffers.
With Dirty Politics, writer/director/producer Steven Esteb has finally found a way to put his “worthless” political science degree to good use. Esteb, a resident of Erath, also created characters that are familiar to anyone who has walked close enough to Louisiana’s political flame to get burned — there’s the corruptible candidate, who can rationalize just about anything; his conniving wife, who truly runs the show behind closed doors; the campaign manager who can fix anything; the longtime aide who hero-worships the candidate; and even the lowly intern looking for a break.
With all of the recent prostitute and airport bathroom scandals that have rocked Congress as of late, the plot isn’t completely unfathomable. In fact, the plot is partly inspired by a trademark quote by the flamboyant Edwin Edwards. When joking with reporters in 1983 about his race against Republican Dave Treen, Edwards quipped, “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.” Well, in the case of Dirty Politics, it’s the former.
Jimmy Breaux finds himself stuck with a corpse after a woman he picks up at a campaign rally suddenly dies — during sex. His campaign manager and top aide, played by Jerry Katz and Judd Nelson, respectively, struggle between “doing the right thing” or dumping the body to preserve the candidate’s 20-point lead in the polls. There are appearances by Beau Bridges, James Carville (the real Ragin’ Cajun) and Howard Hesseman, who plays a political bag man known as “Big Oil.”
The real star, though, is Louisiana politics. All of the perceived faults, backroom dealing and unethical behavior that fill our history books are on display. There are even references to, and a scene involving, the secret underground passageway from the State Capitol to the Heidelberg Hotel that Huey P. Long allegedly used to shuffle his mistress around. The lead character, Breaux is likewise an amalgam of Crowley’s most notable politicians, from Edwards to the other Breaux (John). It’s a must-see for Louisiana political junkies, but don’t go looking for tickets yet. Esteb is presently looking for a home for Dirty Politics, shopping it with distributors and studio heads.
As for Jimmy Breaux the candidate, you can catch his latest spots now on YouTube and other Web sites. After all, the big election isn’t until November. Breaux still has a few months to introduce himself to voters as an alternative, albeit more of a comical relief, to the two men leading the charge atop the ballot. “If you don’t want to vote for your grandpa, or some secret Muslim, Al Qaeda spy,” the candidate says in one online video, “vote for me — Jimmy Breaux. A real man.”
Well, not completely real, but we’ll take what we can get these days.
MAY 20 This post by blogger CB Forgotston draws parallels between Gov. Bobby Jindal and two individuals he probably doesn't want to be aligned with: President Obama and former governor Edwin Edwards. CB says Jindal's trying to jack up the debt ceiling (an Obama play, according to CB) and buy votes from GOP leges who normally wouldn't go for that (an Edwards play, CB says).
MAY 20 Here's a post in the Baptist Message from an alumnus of Louisiana College. The author, Larry Burgess, calls on the leadership of the private school to take care of some pressing problems. Physical plant issues are critical and unaddressed, some faculty make so little they need government health care, and there is an atmosphere that does not encourage honest discussion, he writes. It's time to get things back in order, he says.
MAY 20 This post in Gambit tells of a benefit concert scheduled to raise money for the 19 people shot during a Mother's Day second line on Frenchmen Street in NOLA. Among them was Gambit blogger Deb Cotton, who spoke frequently about violence in the city and reported on the city's second line culture. Gambit's foundation, along with other NOLA non-profits, also is selling t-shirts to raise money for the victims.
MAY 20 Blogger Robert Mann is critical of the personal interest some legislators take in their work here, sharing the comments one NOLA solon made in explaining his decision to vote against a bill that would require people to stop discriminating against female workers. His wife might lose some salary, so he was going to have to vote against the equal pay bill, Conrad Appel said. Appel and everyone who heard him should have been ashamed, but they weren't, and that's what is wrong in that building, Mann argues.
MAY 20 American Press columnist Jim Beam writes about the budget again here, urging kudos for the House and its efforts to try to fix the budget as opposed to passing on a flawed and messy rubber-stamped document as it usually does. The Senate already is poo-pooing the effort, but instead Senators should be trying to find a way to improve it as well, Beam argues. He also has some predictions in here from LABI and CABL.
MAY 20 Here's a link to the photo gallery from Tulane's graduation this past weekend. Dr. John and Allen Toussaint played together and received honorary degrees. The Dalai Lama was so entranced by their performance he got up from his seat and walked across the stage to stand next to them. He even participated in a second line with his own personal, saffron-colored umbrella. To the graduates, he urged them to think about creating a peaceful, hopeful life and society.
MAY 20 This Picayune story questions the rhetoric of NOLA officials who say the city, aside from having a "murder problem," is safe. The talking points generally are that the criminals are killing each other, but everything else is OK. The police chief there says that even Lafayette is more dangerous than NOLA. But crime experts interviewed here say that NOLA's numbers indicate one of two things: either people are so used to violence they don't report it, or somebody's "fudging the numbers."
MAY 20 The Advocate's Mark Ballard writes about some of the background maneuvering that took place during the development of budget alternatives in the Legislature. From Rep. Joel Robideaux being called a "tax and spend liberal" to robo-call influence, Ballard lets us in on some of the work that happens behind the scenes but usually doesn't make it into the Advocate's daily coverage of the session.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.