1st female to head state Democrats
New Orleans state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson ousted Claude “Buddy” Leach to become the first female chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party on Saturday.
The changing of the guard comes as the party prepares for a major voter push this fall when President Barack Obama is up for re-election and congressional seats are also on the ballot.
Louisiana Democrats will try to unseat Republican congressmen who hold all but one of the state’s seats in the U.S. congress, said Peterson, the state’s Obama campaign chairwoman. She said the party will field candidates to challenge Republicans in every district.
Both Peterson and Leach, of Lake Charles, said the Lafayette-based 3rd congressional district and the Shreveport-based 4th district are prime targets for Democratic victories. Leach said Tara Hollis, a schoolteacher who ran for governor in 2011, “may check the waters for the 4th congressional district seat.”
Peterson topped Leach in his re-election bid by a vote of 85 to 75.
Leach had guided the party for the past 18 months. He announced the vote, which was the first of 28 elections for party posts scheduled during a lengthy meeting of the Democratic State Central Committee.
“You now have a new chair,” Leach said.
Leach said he would remain an active party member no matter the vote’s outcome.
Peterson praised Leach. “He’s been an amazing stalwart. The party clearly would not be where it is ... without the investment of his human and financial resources,” Peterson said. “I look forward to working in partnership with him to grow this party.”
The state party had financial problems when Leach, a wealthy former state representative and congressman, stepped in to turn the situation around. He traveled the state and worked local Democratic organizations.
Some party officials were disgruntled that Democrats did not field high-profile candidates in any of the statewide elections last fall. Leach said he “regretted” that party resources were just not there, despite recruitment efforts.
Peterson said “grass-roots” party building will be her key focus with fall elections on the horizon and in preparation for Democrat U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s future re-election bid as well as putting a Democrat in the governor’s mansion four years from now.
“We will run issue-oriented campaigns” that emphasize how out of touch Republicans are, said Peterson, who has been a member of the party’s governing body since she was 18.
“It’s about the working class people who are hurting right now. It’s about the flawed policies of the Republican Party,” Peterson said.
Leach, like Peterson, stressed the need to continue to expand political efforts and participation among everyday party members as well as locally elected officials. He said it is important to register voters and get those voters to the polls on election day.
Leach said the party has been actively recruiting candidates in the 3rd and 4th congressional districts. U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, and Jeff Landry, of New Iberia, both Republicans, are likely to challenge each other in the newly redrawn 3rd congressional district. The two were thrown together as the state lost one of its seven congressional seats because of stagnant population growth.
“The new demographics present an opportunity for a candidate representing working people,” Leach said.
Republican U.S. Rep. John Fleming, of Minden, is the incumbent in the 4th congressional district, which now reaches from the Shreveport area to St. Landry Parish. “Democrats have a slight edge if we get the voter turnout,” Leach said.