Wednesday, Novemeber 30, 2011
Was City-Parish President Joey Durel a factor in the District 44 House runoff? He certainly didn’t help Rep. Rickey Hardy, but there’s more to the story.
By Heather Miller and Walter Pierce
For a man whose name didn’t even appear on the Nov. 19 ballot in Lafayette Parish, City-Parish President Joey Durel somehow managed to score some pretty big election day losses.
With Durel handily winning his own re-election bid against Lafayette Democrat Mike Stagg, the month between the Oct. 22 primary and Nov. 19 runoff gave Durel ample time to try to drum up support for candidates of his choice — or rather opposition to the candidates he was against.
Durel’s highly publicized endorsement of District 6 City-Parish Council candidate Jared Doise was made through a lengthy letter sent to Durel supporters, though the bulk of the endorsement had little to do with Doise’s qualifications. Durel’s primary mission in endorsing Doise was to block eventual runoff winner Andy Naquin from taking a seat on the council.
Running on a Tea Party-sympathetic platform of putting Lafayette Consolidated Government on a diet, Naquin easily defeated Doise in the runoff, securing 57.4 percent of the vote.
In north Lafayette, Durel’s involvement in state Rep. Rickey Hardy’s re-election race in District 44 was strategically baffling, especially considering Hardy’s opponent, Vincent Pierre, focused much of his campaign on linking Hardy to Durel, Gov. Bobby Jindal and other white Republicans who are largely unpopular in the district. Durel, according to poll numbers compiled by Lafayette Parish Democratic Executive Committee member Lester Gauthier, lost 2-1 against Stagg in District 44. But that didn’t stop Durel from robo-calling voters in the district on behalf of Hardy, one of those calls ringing at the home of Gauthier.
Gauthier says the automated message from Durel described Pierre as someone who associates with “divisive” politics of old and asked voters to support Hardy on election day.
The robo-call paid off — for Pierre, who bounced Hardy out of office on Nov. 19 by a 53-47 percent margin.
But in digging through the data from that runoff, the evidence suggests it wasn’t so much Durel’s presence in the District 44 race that did Hardy in; it was the absence of another Lafayette politico: Chris Williams.
There’s no denying that the former city-parish councilman who famously butted heads with Durel over the MLK Parkway is the “divisive” figure Durel was referring to in that robo-call. And there’s little doubt that with Williams coming off the MLK saga, highlighted by that temper-tantrum graffiti incident on the council dais, he was unpopular among white voters in District 44, who voted overwhelmingly for Hardy in his Nov. 17, 2007, runoff against Williams, propelling Hardy to a comfortable 56-44 victory.
But this go around, Hardy didn’t have Williams as a foil. Pierre was a much more low-key opponent, and despite well-known ties to Williams and being the favored candidate on the Williams-linked “United Ballot” distributed before the Oct. 22 primary, Pierre made a point of downplaying his relationship with Williams while playing up Hardy’s relationship with the white GOP establishment. Coupled with the well-oiled United Ballot PAC backing his campaign, Pierre’s strategy was clearly a winning one.
In the 2007 runoff against Williams, Hardy won 21 of the district’s 31 precincts and was victorious in early voting, too. But this year he managed to win only nine precincts and lost in the early vote. And in those districts where he ran the strongest — the majority white districts — his support fell off precipitously. In 2007, Hardy won a whopping 86 percent of the vote to Williams’ 14 in Precinct 72, a southern outpost of the district near the UL campus; this year support in 72 fell to 64 percent for Hardy and 36 percent for Pierre — a 22-point drop. And so on down the line.
It’s fair to say Hardy went into the primary with some false assumptions — that his popularity among white voters in 2007 was due to his appeal as opposed to their disdain for Williams; that the support of establishment white Republicans was a net positive in a district that is 61 percent black and 64 percent Democrat. Hardy didn’t run from those GOP endorsements in 2007 and he didn’t run from them this year, and it winded up biting him in the butt.
Hardy was cocky before the primary, qualifying in boxing gloves and confidently predicting he’d walk away with a victory substantial enough to negate a runoff.
What Hardy didn’t know is that what he didn’t have going for him this year was what he had going against him in 2007.
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