Wednesday, August 11, 2010 Written by Jeremy Alford
Senate contender accused of being a secret agent. Paranoia, or politics as usual?
This is shaping up to be one hell of a federal election season in Louisiana, especially in the race to rip the seat from underneath incumbent U.S. Sen. David Vitter. Of course, there’s the whole hooker thing, but that’s low hanging fruit — voters are already well aware that his phone number showed up in the records of a D.C. prostitution ring and that the madam was later found dead in an apparent suicide before giving up her ghosts. They probably also know that Vitter is accustomed to near-brushes with law enforcement, like the time he opened an armed security door and berated a United Airlines employee after being questioned, or the time he damaged a traffic sign in a police department parking lot while avoiding reporters.
While his hand was never slapped for these misgivings, Vitter, a Metairie Republican, has been less than forgiving when it comes to his opponents in the coming fall elections. He sent out an email blast last week that’s true to form — that is, it contained information that no other politician in their right mind would want to be directly connected to; most elected officials would have given the dirty duty to a flack, campaign manager or, more likely, a third, uninvolved party. But not Vitter. He personally wrote about some juicy gossip he had recently heard about his GOP challenger, Chet Traylor of Monroe, who formerly served as a state Supreme Court justice. According to Vitter, Traylor “had a private dinner meeting with Wayne Elmore at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Lafayette.”
Elmore is a well-known name in Acadiana’s business community, but still not as renowned as the Mello Joy Coffee Company, which he is credited with resurrecting and reintroducing to the local marketplace. Messages were left for Elmore at his residence over the weekend seeking his side of the story, but those calls were not returned. Supposedly, Elmore and Traylor broke bread last Tuesday — and Vitter broke the story two days later. “Who’s Wayne Elmore?” Vitter asks in his email. “Just Charlie Melancon’s single biggest contributor, fundraiser, and fraternity brother. He and his family have directly given Melancon over $50,000. So much that Melancon made him King of the Washington Mardi Gras Ball.”
Congressman Melancon, a Napoleonville native, is expected to be the Democratic name on the general election ballot, alongside whoever wins in the GOP primary later this month, assuming there isn’t a runoff. As for the Elmore meeting, Traylor’s handlers contend it was just a gathering of friends. And that’s all we have to go from right now, since Traylor’s campaign finance reports remain a mystery — he entered the race so late, he doesn’t have any numbers on file with the Federal Elections Commission. But that won’t last long.
Vitter is also throwing stink bombs at Melancon for an amendment the congressman passed off the House floor last month that sounds and looks strikingly similar to a bill that was earlier sponsored by the senator. Both of the provisions would ease up on the federal moratorium that has been established for deepwater drilling and both would require the signature of President Barack Obama, who pushed for the moratorium in the first place. In signing off on either provision, Obama would be undermining his own policy. And that’s not likely to happen, even as a political favor for Melancon. “The President’s own priorities, policy-wise, will always come first for him,” says one Democratic staffer on the Hill. From talk radio to civic meetings, folks in these parts just plain don’t like the moratorium. They also, at least according to the chatter that’s been floated by the power structure behind the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and others, don’t like Melancon’s amendment to ease off on the moratorium. It’s the same concern that has been raised by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, Vitter and others: It includes language that states the interior secretary “shall make a determination on whether to issue the permit.” That’s too much control and the secretary should be required just to issue permits, not make determinations, opponents argue, but it’s the same language that was included in Vitter’s earlier standalone bill as well.
As for future flinging, none of the candidates running for federal office voiced opposition to continuing this year’s Mudfest. Then again, none of them voiced support, either, which means it’s politics as usual. So keep the soap handy.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at
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