Political Horizons: Congressional candidates not regular voters

Even as the Republicans running for the 6th Congressional District seat gang up on immigrants, most of them failed the simplest test of citizenship: regularly voting.

In fact, only two of the eight would be among the voters most prized by their own campaign strategists.

That’s not to say the candidates didn’t vote at all.

Fundraising leader Garret Graves, for instance, voted in the presidential elections. They all did.

But Graves failed to cast a ballot for his former boss, Gov. Bobby Jindal, in 2007. And like Paul Dietzel and Craig McCulloch, Graves didn’t vote in March 2012, the last GOP presidential primary, which selected Rick Santorum as Louisiana’s Republican candidate for president.

Nor did Graves, Dietzel, McCulloch and Cassie Felder vote in the first election David Vitter faced — an all-Republican primary in August 2010 — after admitting that he committed a “very serious sin.”

“I can’t sit here and tell you exactly which elections I voted in. I’d be lying to you if I told you. But I can tell you that I certainly don’t remember missing major elections,” Graves said. “Over the years, I’ve had the chance to bring some major transportation wins, some major defense wins, some major hurricane protection wins, some major energy wins for Louisiana. I think my record of fighting for Louisiana and fighting for democracy speaks for itself.”

Only 6th District aspirants state Rep. Lenar Whitney and state Sen. Dan Claitor would be a campaigner’s model target. Their record of voting includes, not only in the big presidential and gubernatorial elections, but on nearly every small millage and every party question.

Charles “Trey” Thomas and Bob Bell voted in the major elections and even some minor ones, but not in all the local ones.

The rest fall in the intermittent and occasional categories who make it to the polls for presidential and gubernatorial contests and a few of the minor elections.

Much of a candidate’s campaign efforts — direct mailing, phone calls and door-to-door visits — are aimed at winning the habitual voters, while trying to figure out what arguments would motivate a fair number of occasionals and intermittents to drop by the polls.

Even with the urging of the “Duck Dynasty” crowd and Mayor Jamie Mayo’s well-oiled south Monroe political machine, only 19 percent of the 5th Congressional District cast the November 2013 ballots that gave Vance McAllister an overwhelming win in his first foray into politics.

And McAllister gives lie to the theory that not voting regularly somehow disqualifies a candidate from elective office. He, too, only voted in the presidential and gubernatorial elections but skipped GOP primaries for president and Vitter’s comeback.

“If potential voters are going to abdicate the campaign and leave the vote to the chronic voters, I’m one of those guys,” Claitor said. “In practice, I’m OK with that. In theory, I am not. I want to see huge turnout and see people return to participation.”

While all the 6th District candidates aren’t quite ready to share their opinions on, say, whether a congressman’s job includes bringing home federal dollars, every one of them has a ready immigration quote. They all agree that people who snuck into the country illegally should not be forgiven and that the borders should be guarded more carefully to keep other illegals out.

“We need to follow the laws on the books. We need to build that wall down on the border,” Dietzel said recently.

The 57,000-plus children fleeing Central American gang violence and flooding U.S. borders has reinvigorated the debate over what constitutes comprehensive immigration reform and particularly has riled up those voters who believe illegal aliens should be deported.

The U.S. Census Bureau found in 2010 that 12.9 percent of America’s residents were born elsewhere. Eight of the 56 signees to the Declaration of Independence were foreign born, says the study guide for the test immigrants have to pass to become citizens.

Most immigrants begin their U.S. citizenship training by watching a movie called “A Promise of Freedom.” The 12-minute film focuses on history, the Founding Fathers, American exceptionalism and the responsibilities of citizenship.

“The right to vote allows each citizen to help the nation remain strong and grow,” the wannabe Americans are told. “Voting allows all of us to have a voice in how our lives and communities are built and how they change over time. Voting is an important part of U.S. citizens’ responsibilities.”

Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. Email mballard@theadvocate.com.