How do outside influencers come into New Orleans and change the trajectory of political campaigns? It’s more than just millions of dollars. There must be a vulnerable incumbent. There must be a national issue that the office affects. And a dynamic alternative must emerge as a change agent. The race for Public Service Commission, District 3 is just this kind of race.
Because of this , this Public Service Commission District 3 runoff election could likely end the run of Lambert Boissiere. Boissiere is the incumbent and seeks reelection to a fourth term. That he might lose is a shocking development. Endorsed by Governor John Bel Edwards, Boissiere is a scandal free incumbent backed by the biggest companies in the state. He hails from one of those strong and mighty political families – think Morial, Landrieu, Willard. These families provide high level public service purely for the public good. The electorate knows, trusts and elects these candidates. Yet Boissiere is in the middle of a fight for his political life.
Five major factors work against him.
- Boissiere’s personality
- The shifting political tide in New Orleans
- Turnout in Baton Rouge versus New Orleans
- Dark Money/Green energy attacks
- The latest poll results
Boissiere’ s father, Big Lam, is a personable, energetic, and engaging politician. He is currently the city’s constable and has been in public office for over 40 years. However, Commissioner Boissiere, III is less engaging than his father. He is rarely seen outside of the office and even if you bump into him, he won’t blow you away with his reserved personality. Critics say he is never around. And considering he is entering his 20th year as an elected official, all that Boissiere name recognition is due to his father.
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This is a high-profile position. In fact, this is one of the most powerful positions in state government. The district touches 11 parishes. The PSC regulates Entergy, Cox Cable, phone companies and trucking companies. Opportunities to create political good will and motivate voters are frequent. Instead of being one of the most well known and loved elected officials in the region, Boissiere is more comfortable in the background. This creates an incredible political liability and makes him that vulnerable incumbent.
Shifting Political Tides in New Orleans
As social media reminisces with funny little ditties about things “that it ain’t dere no mo” in New Orleans, this parallels the changing political dynamics in the city. Gentrification, fewer and newer voters, and different kinds of voters mean the Boissiere name is not nearly as important as previous elections. Previously, simply running as Boissiere translated into enough votes. Not so much anymore. In fact the latest PSC poll shows his challenger leads. So the historical significance of a big name is less important than the desire to improve our climate. Louisiana is ground zero for the impact of climate change. This is a national issue.
Baton Rouge Turnout
In New Orleans the only thing on the ballot is this PSC race and some innocuous sounding constitutional amendments. Expect extremely low turnout. But in Baton Rouge, there are life changing runoff elections. The charter school movement that transformed – many say destroyed – the Orleans Parish School system is encroaching onto the Baton Rouge schools. Candidates squarely on opposite sides of the argument are locked in the runoff. Baton Rouge also has a hotly contested appellate court judgeship with racial overtones. And if that’s not enough, a tax increase for the sheriff’s department is also on the ballot. Even though the Baton Rouge portion of the district is smaller, significantly higher turnout in challenger Davante Lewis’ home area can overtake low turnout across the rest of the district. And Lewis is a dynamic campaigner. Polished, well dressed, funny and engaging, he is more reminiscent of Big Lam than is Boissiere III. Lewis is a change agent.
Dark Money/Green energy attacks
You have probably seen the attack ads proclaiming Boissiere a stooge of Entergy. These attacks may be slightly misleading, but they are extremely effective. They plan to spend of two million dollars in this race. The New York based interest group backs candidates across the country. They are attempting to green the energy sector. They want less natural gas and more solar and wind sources for electricity. We know Entergy just built a new natural gas plant in New Orleans East. It should be noted that the New Orleans City Council regulates Entergy in New Orleans.
The attack ads point out that Boissiere’s biggest contributor is Entergy. They say Boissiere is responsible for your high electric bills and frequent power outages. Now they are promoting Devante Lewis who made the runoff. And while the ads say Lewis will not take any money from Entergy, they do not mention the millions of dollars contributed to his campaign either directly or via attacks on the incumbent. But the attacks are working. Just look at the polling.
Latest Polling – PSC Poll Shows Challenger Leads
The latest polling released by Global Strategy Group shows Lewis up by 8 points. This follows the trend during the primary election, where Lewis narrowly squeaked by Greg Manning. Lewis rose steadily in the polls during the primary and rocketed to second place in the last week. His momentum is being buoyed by the new ads that promote his candidacy. This huge swing is surprising. A complete unknown in New Orleans before this election, Lewis is now leading Boissiere by nearly double digits. Lewis clearly is tapping into some voter sentiments.
For Boissiere the election will come down to holding onto and motivating his home territory. Every campaign comes down to turnout. Which candidate can get out the vote. But the only thing on the ballot in metro New Orleans is this race and those boring constitutional amendments. And remember, Boissiere is not the inspiring motivational candidate who is always present in the community. So it is not surprising to analysts that Lewis is pushing ahead.
Call it a nail biter, but the outside money will continue to hammer Boissiere. If he can’t change the narrative that he is the rate hike king, then expect a new Public Service Commissioner for District 3.