Hughes beats Guidry for Supreme Court

Republican Jeff Hughes won Saturday's runoff election for the District 5 seat on the seven-member Louisiana Supreme Court by 6 percentage points over Democrat John Michael Guidry.

In complete but unofficial returns, Hughes had 52,939 votes, or 53 percent, to Guidry's 47,259 votes, or 47 percent.

Hughes' win gives Republicans a 4-3 majority on the state's highest court.

Hughes' did not return a telephone request for comment late Saturday.

"I want to congratulate Jeff Hughes and wish him well in his work on the Supreme Court," Guidry said. Guidry thanked both his voters and "all the voters who participated in the democratic process."

Only 19.5 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in the runoff. The Nov. 6 primary attracted 66.2 percent.

Both Hughes and Guidry currently serve on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge. Guidry, 50, has 15 years on that bench. Hughes, 60, has eight years with the 1st Circuit and previously served 14 years as a state district judge.

Hughes' win was somewhat uphill, given that 48 percent of the registered voters in the eight-parish district listed themselves as Democrats and 29 percent listed themselves as Republicans.

Guidry was attempting to become the first black Supreme Court justice from District 5, which includes East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Livingston, Ascension, Iberville and Pointe Coupee parishes.

Hughes became the district's first Republican Supreme Court justice.

There were some legislative and executive voices heard in the Supreme Court scuffle.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., endorsed Guidry in the high court contest. Gov. Bobby Jindal placed Republicans' hopes on Hughes.

Guidry, a Baton Rouge resident, was outgunned financially. He had a fraction of the television advertising time purchased by both Hughes and an independent political action committee, Baton Rouge-based Citizens for Clean Water and Land PAC. That committee supported only Hughes in what began as an eight-candidate campaign.

Guidry pounded the pavement relentlessly, making a dozen or more appearances at churches on a weekly basis, regularly speaking at schools, youth groups and senior citizen organizations. He also bought air time at radio stations throughout the district.

And Guidry was endorsed in the runoff election by the four political action committees of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

Hughes, a Walker resident, eliminated four Republican rivals in the primary by announcing early and often that he is "pro-gun, pro-life, pro-traditional marriage" and favors the death penalty.

In the runoff, Hughes repeatedly asserted that his 14 years as a trial judge gave him an edge in experience over Guidry.

Guidry countered that his 15 years as an appellate judge nearly double Hughes' appellate experience. Guidry also emphasized that the Supreme Court is the state's highest appellate court.

Headed into the last week of the campaign, Guidry reported receipt of $225,342 in contributions this year. That total included $77,588 of his personal funds.

Hughes reported that he had received $471,954 in campaign contributions, including $250,100 of his savings.

But Hughes also benefited from $468,701 pumped into television advertisements and other support from Citizens for Clean Water and Land. That committee's founders and supporters include trial lawyers who represent landowners who have sued oil and gas companies in an effort to force those firms to clean drilling wastes from their properties.

At a debate hosted in late November by the League of Women Voters of Baton Rouge, Guidry criticized the committee's use of that money to promote Hughes' election.

"I don't ask for their support," Hughes said of the committee's expenditures. "I don't control such support."

"If you didn't want them to pay for your commercials, maybe you should have told them to stop," Guidry replied.

Three days before the runoff election, Hughes' campaign sent an eight-page tabloid to residences in the district. The tabloid highlighted Hughes' athletic, academic and professional accomplishments from high school through his 34-year legal career.

In that publication, Hughes advised voters to ignore any controversy over disputes between landowners and oil companies and focus instead on his conservative views.

"If you're pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-traditional marriage, then Vote Jeff Hughes," he said in the tabloid.

Hughes also told his reading audience "liberal Democrat Bernette Johnson" will become chief justice of the Supreme Court after Chief Justice Kitty Kimball, a Democrat, retires in January.

"The election of a Republican majority to the court would tend to limit her (Johnson's) actions, while the election of another Democrat could give her more freedom to move not only the Supreme Court but the entire Louisiana judicial system to the left," Hughes argued.