I Feel So Dirty

In case you missed it, we had an election. We voted on secretary of state, insurance commissioner, and thirteen constitutional amendments. There were also some local issues, too.I know you probably had more important things to worry about, like going to the LSU or Southern game, clearing out your email, or cleaning the lint from your navel. In any case, not too many people cared enough to go vote. More specifically, only about 20% of the state’s 2.9 million voters showed up, according to the secretary of state’s office. That’s the lowest turnout for a statewide election in over a decade.Some experts blame the lack of interest on a ballot with little-known candidates, along with the checkered history of Louisiana insurance commissioners. It’s no wonder they believe that. How many people around the state, outside the political loop, know anything about James David Cain, Jim Donelon, Jay Dardenne, Mike Francis, or Francis Heitmeier? I’d bet that more Louisianans could name the winner of Big Brother: All-Stars than could name three of the seven candidates for secretary of state.

As for the insurance commissioner’s race, even a host of insurance issues from last year’s hurricanes, like cost increases, dropped policies, and damage disputes, weren’t enough to motivate more voters to go to the polls. One political scientist says he thinks it’s because people don’t believe all the promises of the candidates will truly affect their rates or other personal insurance issues.

Is it any wonder that folks would feel this way? The three insurance commissioners before Robert Wooley all went to prison, and some think Wooley would have probably ended up there, too, had he not resigned from office when he did. It’s hard not to be jaded when we hear somebody promise they’ll be an insurance commissioner we can all be proud of. It’s like hearing the latest head coach hired in Detroit say he’ll lead the Lions to the Super Bowl.

The contest for insurance commissioner was essentially a two-horse race, or at least between two guys that acted like part of a horse. Incumbent Jim Donelon, a Republican who took over when Wooley resigned, and James David Cain, a term-limited Republican senator from Dry Creek, turned on each other like a couple of bloodthirsty fighting cocks on Saturday night in Vermilion Parish.

In one corner, you had Donelon accusing Cain of improperly taking campaign money from a bail bondsman in Alexandria, not attending important meetings (including an entire special session), and getting involved in an illegal pyramid scheme. In the other corner, Cain said that Donelon mismanaged the state-run insurer of last resort, was in bed with the insurance companies, and awarded a Tulane scholarship to his own daughter while serving as a legislator. It got so bad, Donelon filed suit against Cain for smearing his reputation. This race turned nasty faster than a cheap porn flick.

While I’m on the subject of porn, I keep hearing political commentators say that people are turned off by negative campaigning. They point to polls where folks say that they find political mudslinging objectionable. If this is true, why in the world do politicians keep spending millions of dollars on negative tactics?

I think negative campaigning is like porn. People always like to say they find it offensive, yet there’s a huge market for it because it sells. Likewise, while Joe Blow tells us he thinks mudslinging is abhorrent, he secretly likes it, but just doesn’t want the rest of us to know it. Plus, there’s usually at least one giant prick trying to humiliate someone.

Donelon was the eventual winner of the race in the primary election held September 30. This wasn’t a big surprise. What was surprising was the narrow margin by which he won outright, thus avoiding a runoff with Cain. While Cain got 39% of the vote, Donelon got barely over 50%. In fact, he avoided a runoff by about 500 votes.

That’s because the Libertarian candidate, S.B.A. Zaitoon, garnered 11% of the vote. Never heard of him? Don’t feel bad. Most of the 60,000 of us who voted for him had no idea who he was, either.

When I saw him on TV, I thought he might be that Dr. Z guy on the DaimlerChrysler commercials. He’s got an accent, a funny moustache, and the right last name. The only thing I knew for sure about him was that he wanted to get elected to insurance commissioner so that he could convert it from an elected office to a position appointed by the governor.

I agree with Mr. Zaitoon. Let the governor appoint our insurance commissioner. That way, when he goes to prison, we as voters won’t get pegged for electing a criminal. Instead, we can blame it on the governor.

So, if you missed out on all the fun in this year’s race for insurance chief, fret not, my fellow voters. Donelon’s term only lasts for another year, and he must run for reelection in 2007 to keep his job. That means we get to do all this again next year. So start stocking up on Scotchgard, folks. We’re going to need it with all that mud that’ll be flying around.