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Nathan Granger

Wednesday, February, 9, 2011

Democrat Nathan Granger says a recent poll shows him with a sizable lead in the state Senate District 26 race, leaving us to ponder: Does a Democrat really have a realistic shot at getting elected in Louisiana anymore?  By Walter Pierce

Vermilion Parish business owner and Police Juror Nathan Granger has been pressing the flesh feverishly since announcing in January that he would seek the open state Senate District 22 seat vacated in December by Nick Gautreaux, who accepted the post of commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles.

A conservative Democrat and UL alumnus who mortgaged his home almost 20 years ago to start a small oil services company that now employes hundreds — Quality Companies ranked 28th on ABiz’s most recent list of the top 50 privately held companies in Acadiana — the 42-year-old Granger is well-known within his police jury district. But Senate District 26 spans almost half of his native Vermilion Parish, plus a quarter of Acadia and Lafayette parishes and almost 10 percent of St. Landry. That’s a lot of ground to cover in a compressed election season.

Granger’s only competitor in the race is 38-year-old Republican state Rep. Jonathan Perry, also a Vermilion Parish native, and the election is Feb. 19.
“I kiss the family on the head at night while they’re sleeping and I kiss the family on the head when I leave in the morning,” Granger half jokes.

Since announcing in early January, Granger has been knocking on doors, meeting with civic groups and appearing on local radio and TV stations, and he’s pumped a considerable sum of his own money into a campaign that includes television commercials in heavy rotation. Now he’s waving a poll he had commissioned recently that shows him with an astounding 20-point lead with the election rapidly approaching.

Conducted among 400 likely voters Jan. 30-31 by Lauer Johnson Research, a Democratic firm, Granger’s poll shows him with a 49-29 percent lead over Perry. Although Democrat Granger is seeking a seat mostly recently held by his own party, release of the poll raised some eyebrows in Acadiana, which has swung solidly red since Gautreaux was first elected.

“I’m not surprised because in this district the people vote for the person in the race,” Granger counters. “The reception has been outstanding. I’ll tell you what people have been telling me: They’re concerned about guys who are career politicians, about lawyers who are making laws in Baton Rouge versus a business owner like myself who started a business from scratch. That’s what it is. It has nothing to do with the D or the R. I’m a conservative Democrat. I’m pro-life, pro-family, pro-gun and I’m pro-business. It’s not a political pledge; it’s what I do every day in my life — I live it.”

Perry bristles at Granger’s characterization of him as a “career politician.”

“I think that is very hypocritical because I’ve been a legislator for three years, and he’s been a police juror for three years,” Perry says. “So how one can be more of a career politician than the other is beside me.”

And Perry points to his own poll, conducted Feb. 4 among 300 likely voters by Teddlie Media, showing him with a nine-point lead over Granger — 40-31 percent.

Based on Democrats’ ebbing political fortunes in the state, Perry’s poll probably seems closer to reality for most political observers. A lawyer by vocation who is also a professional stand-up Cajun comic, Perry announced for the seat the week Gautreaux confirmed he was vacating it. He has tea party support and is quick to tick off his conservative bona fides.

“I voted against all fees. I voted against all taxes. I voted against the legislative pay raise,” Perry says. “And I actually voted against last year’s budget, which the governor voted for, the speaker of the House voted for, the president of the Senate voted for. There were only, I think, 34 of us that voted against it, and the reason being it was a bad budget.”

The first-term rep also sponsored the type of red-meat legislation that sells with social conservatives, including a bill that would allow Louisiana birth certificates to only bear the names of married parents. The bill, widely seen as targeting gay and lesbian couples, didn’t make it into law. But the effort burnished Perry’s conservative credentials.

“To be honest, I just thought Perry was going to win in a walkover,” admits UL political science professor Pearson Cross. “And then I started seeing all those ads for Nathan Granger, just on and on and on. And he does have a base as a police juror. And I’ve been told that the district is more shaped down his way than Perry’s way in terms of where Perry’s district is. So, man, at this point it looks like what I once thought was a walkover for Perry is quite possibly a close race and could prevent an outright Republican majority in the state Senate.”

With Gautreaux’s seat open and newly minted Republican Fred Mills taking over in District 22, the state Senate is currently knotted at 19-19. A Granger win would keep the chamber Democrat, something that has seemed increasingly unlikely in Louisiana.

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Founder and president of Quality Companies, an ABiz Top 50 privately held business,
Nathan Granger (center) is banking on voters in state Senate District 26 choosing the
person over the party. Granger is a lifelong Democrat who has refused to switch parties,
as many notable Dems have done in recent months. Currently in his first term on the
Vermilion Parish Police Jury, Granger faces first-term Republican state
Rep. Jonathan Perry in the Feb. 19 election to replace Nick Gautreaux.

Granger, unlike Mills and other prominent Democrats such as Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle who defected to the GOP, says this race isn’t about party affiliation; it’s about the person. He chose to stick with the Dems.

“It’s a cycle, man,” Granger insists. “Republicans in the state must not be real confident in their candidate because I got a ton of calls to switch. You know what, I’m not one of those to switch right before an election. My opponent switched before his last race four years ago. He did that to get Republican money to run his race. That’s pretty shallow in my book — switching just for political gain to get money.”

Cross agrees that party affiliation is less of a factor the closer you get to the local level: “In a race like this I tend to think it’s less ideological, less R and D, and more your base,” he says. “Louisiana’s gotten partisan to the point where partisanship matters very much at the [U.S.] Senate and the congressional level. But when you get down to a kind of rural area race like this, political party matters less than previous office holding and who you are and how you’re viewed in that general area — what your name recognition is.”

Increasing the slope that Granger must climb as a Democrat, his close friend and fellow Dem Gautreaux is in a tough position and has to hedge his bets: He won’t be confirmed as OMV commissioner until the session begins in April, and a state office head’s confirmation can be blocked by the senator who represents him. If Gautreaux openly endorses Granger and Perry wins the election, things could get dicey.

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State Rep. Jonathan Perry

Several members of Lafayette’s legislative delegation, some of them Republicans, are being publicly diplomatic.

“It’s always a tough position to be in,” admits state Sen. Mike Michot. “I’ve served with Jonathan Perry in the Legislature and know his record, and I think he’d make a good senator. From what I know about Granger, he’s a self-made businessman and he’d also make a good senator.”

Michot and state Reps. Page Cortez and Joel Robideaux, the independent among them, attended a fundraiser for Perry recently at Schilling Distributors and at least two of them — Robideaux and Michot — opened their checkbooks for Perry. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, a conservative pro-business lobby, gave Perry a 100 percent on its recent legislative scorecard. But LABI gave the same donation — $2,500, according to a source — to each candidate.

Granger, meanwhile, is unfazed by the demographics that are mounting against Democrats in Louisiana.

“I can’t worry about that,” he says. “I think the party definitely needs to get in shape, get on board with what’s going on. But I’m not an advocate for any party. I’m Nathan Granger, and I’m running for the Senate seat.”

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