Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A middle school special-ed teacher from Haynesville has her eye on the most unlikely prize — the governor’s mansion. By Walter Pierce

Tara Hollis is running for governor. Of Louisiana.

My reaction when a campaign announcement from the north Louisiana public school teacher appeared in my inbox in late May was, “Well, she’s crazy.” I even blogged Hollis’ fledgling and, it seemed then almost as much as it seems now, impossible undertaking beneath the headline, “This week in quixotic: North La. teacher running for gov.”

But Tara Hollis is no Don Quixote, and she’s not crazy either. I met her last week when she stopped into The Ind office. She’s smart, articulate, quick with answers and camera-ready. The timing is good for her, too: It’s summer vacation for the Claiborne Parish educator, and she’s spending it motoring up, down and across the state, pressing the flesh, raising funds and building a precious political commodity: name recognition.

This is her first crack at elected office. Yet the self-described conservative Democrat — she’s pro-life, pro-family, pro-business and she voted for Jindal in 2007 — acknowledges that her campaign is, to put it kindly, a long shot.

“I’m not naive about the position or the undertaking. I’m not naive about the amount of work. I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers,” she says. “But I do know that in talking to the people of this state, this is not just a movement of my parish or the people around me; this is across the board. People are looking for a voice, and no one has stood up to be that voice. And if that’s something that I need to do, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

Hollis says she’s getting supportive signals from the state Democratic Party, too. Last week she attended the Donkey Romp, a swanky annual event in Baton Rouge that serves as a party fundraiser and, no doubt, a salve for a political apparatus rubbed raw by defeat and defection over the last few years. “The Democratic Party has gone through a very rough spot these last couple of years,” Hollis adds. “They are glad to have a face out there that’s trying to invigorate the party and get out to vote.”
She says she and state party Chairman Buddy Leach had a nice, long chat. Whether the Dems will throw money her way remains to be seen.

But Hollis has something on her side: numbers. When Bobby Jindal took office in 2008 unemployment in Louisiana was a shade below 4 percent; now it’s over 8. The state has shed nearly 170,000 jobs during his term. The $1 billion budget surplus he inherited from Kathleen Blanco is now a $1.6 billion deficit.

Jindal will of course make the relativity argument, as he frequently does — that Louisiana has fared well compared to much of the rest of the nation. And that is true.

Maybe Hollis can tap into some of the frustration among many in our state disillusioned by the fact that no matter who occupies the governor’s mansion we remain a bottom feeder — 49th to Mississippi’s 50th — on virtually every meaningful national ranking of health, education and income.  Maybe she can get some traction with the metastasized perception that the jet-setting Jindal has been a part-time governor whose national aspirations trump everything else, or his hypocrisy about ethics reform (good for everyone but him) and the federal stimulus (he toured the state passing out stimulus checks disguised as state largesse).

Then again, maybe not.

I’ll say this for Tara Hollis: She has moxie.

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