Jay Dardenne: incumbent. Photo by Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau.
Billy Nungesser: challenger. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Three weeks ago I thought I’d be the only one to plumb the lurid depths of the lieutenant governor’s race between Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser and incumbent Jay Dardenne. But, happily, pundits of all stripes have jumped into the reindeer games with both hooves, probably because the race for the state’s No. 2 office is far and away the most interesting contest in this otherwise sleepy political season. Let’s recap some of the recent dirty lowlights.

Last week Scott McKay at The Hayride website posted a link to a complaint against Dardenne filed by Kent Gates, a political consultant working for Nungesser. McKay described the contents:

[The complaint] alleges an affair between Dardenne and a woman named Mary Jennings in or around 1993, and that Dardenne represented Jennings in a personal injury case while that affair was going on without disclosing the

relationship to the court (for quite obvious reasons), and that Dardenne essentially stole a $14,000 judgment from Jennings – and further that Dardenne had associates pressure Jennings into shutting up about the whole thing for essentially 18 years.

We discussed these allegations with Gates… and he further implied that the alleged Dardenne-Jennings affair involved an abortion – Gates phrased that allegation as saying there were events in that relationship which call into question how pro-life Dardenne really is.

So with that, we’re off and running. Stephen Sabludowsky at Bayou Buzz website shed more light on Gates’ previous work:

Kent Gates is a Senior Strategist at BrabenderCox. BrabenderCox is handlng media for Nungesser. BrabenderCox also masterfully handled David Vitter‘s advertising during Vitter‘s slam US Senate victory over Charlie Melancon, last fall.

I suppose “masterfully” is one way to describe Gates’ handling of Vitter’s re-election ads against former U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon. Race-baiting would be another, if you saw the spots on illegal immigration. So it’s not surprising that Nungesser is airing similar attack ads against Dardenne, claiming he’s soft on illegal immigration. But to truly appreciate them (or any political ad for that matter) you need to watch them on mute, and interpret the silent message conveyed by the ad’s images. Unfortunately, I can’t find a link to Nungesser’s illegal immigration ad. (If you can, please add it in the comments. [UPDATE: Nungesser pulls ad. UPDATE #2: Nungesser did NOT pull ad.]) But to my eye, they clearly associate Dardenne with brown, job-stealing illegal immigrants in a way that would stir paranoia in any former David Duke supporter. The Louisiana Weekly apparently disagrees with my interpretation, though, and endorsed Nungesser not only for lieutenant governor, but for governor, as well. Nungesser had a half-page ad in the Weekly. Ironically, it ran directly below a story, titled “From Jim Crow to Juan Crow…”, that deplored the way Hispanic Americans have become victims of the same kind of state-sanctioned bias that black Americans have endured. Others who, like me, were offended by the ad aired their concerns directly to Nungesser when he appeared at an EngageNola “meet and greet session” last week.  Stephanie Grace of the Times-Picayune reported on one confrontation:

One young woman brought up Nungesser’s harsh attack ad arguing that Dardenne, as a state senator, opposed legislation that would make it harder for illegal immigrants to work in Louisiana (Dardenne counters that the proposed regulations were onerous and were opposed by the business lobby). She noted that the stereotypical Latino villains of his piece look a lot like her relatives, and asked why he would run such an ad.

Now pay attention to this pass-the-buck response from the candidate who would oversee the state’s tourism marketing efforts:

I didn’t make the ad. We hire an ad agency, just as my opponent does … It’s just the nature of the beast that it’s dramatized,” he said. He didn’t mean to offend anyone, he said, even as he said he stood by the ad’s content.

Are you kidding me?! A candidate can’t wash his hands of an ad that his campaign funded and approved. What kind of leadership is that? Where’s the willingness to assume responsibility? You don’t often hear the term “gutless” applied to Nungesser, but that was a gutless response to a heartless ad.

Speaking of “the nature of the beast,” though, we arrive at Jeremy Alford’s Gambit story, titled Politics-a-Trois, which reviews some of the “sexual harassment, extramarital affairs, drug use and prostitutes” in the campaign. Concerning the first issue, Alford writes:

In 1997, Nungesser was sued for damages by a man named Ryck H. Soto, who had previously worked for Nungesser’s General Marine Leasing. According to the suit, which was filed in Orleans Civil District Court, Soto alleged that he was “wrongly terminated” after Nungesser allegedly made “sexual advances.” Nungesser denied all the allegations, which included requests for oral sex and “exposing his genitals.”

Nungesser’s consultant, Gates, said the suit was withdrawn by Soto. “The allegations alleged are completely false and (the plaintiff) will corroborate that,” Gates said.

(Download the court filing: Nungesser_Sexual_Harrassment_Case.pdf)

Soto did, in fact, confirm to Gambit he “had a kind of humbug that was personal with Billy, and I was honestly trying to embarrass him.” Soto added, “I don’t remember all the particulars, but we’ve made up. I’m campaigning for him now.”

Soto doesn’t “remember all the particulars” even though the particulars include alleged “requests for oral sex” from Nungesser? I mean … gracious! I don’t have the recollection of an elephant either, but it would seem that even an imagined episode like that would be, um, très difficile to forget.

Meanwhile, political pundit Jeff Crouere took a victory lap last week, reminding everyone that Jeanette Maier, the Canal Street Madam, declared on Crouere’s radio show that Nungesser had been client:

By 2008, Billy Nungesser had a reputation as a hard working parish president who was colorful and animated, but not especially controversial. This reputation changed on March 18, 2008, when I interviewed the Canal Street Madam on my Ringside radio program (WGSO 990 AM).  For the first time on the airwaves, Maier publicly named Billy Nungesser as one of her long time clients, something that she had mentioned privately many times. In fact, Maier claimed Nungesser was not only a client of almost two decades, but also a drug user and sexual deviant, who had an explosive temper.

Even though Maier feared for her safety in alleging Nungesser’s connection to her prostitution business, she made the following statement on the radio:

There’s an elected official that’s been a client of mine for probably almost 20 years. He’s one of my best spenders or was one of my best spenders. His proclivities can’t even be said on radio. I would say that there were women, men and an abundance of coke. Sometimes I don’t even want to think about some of the stuff that he did. He hid behind his famous Republican father who knew because he paid his son’s tab to me which came with a death threat. This is a man … who had sexual harassment at work brought to his attention and suddenly everything disappeared. This is a man out of control and yet was elected Plaquemines Parish president. Now you know who it is. You must all take responsibility for your actions. We must take responsibility for our actions, including you, Mr. William Nungesser Jr. or as I know him or many sex workers, as Pinky or Billy Boy.”  (Audio clip attached)

When confronted that same day about these scandalous accusations by then WGSO 990-AM News Director Terry Easley, Nungesser said, “That’s old news … my name was in the paper for that. You know what, if I had known it was there I would have went, I didn’t know it was there and never been there. That’s ridiculous.” When Easley asked him what would motivate the madam to make such explosive charges if they were not true, Nungesser said, “I don’t know. This is the third time; it’s been in the paper twice … I’m not even going to entertain it. It’s better for me not even to comment on it.”(Audio clip attached)

Now, I don’t automatically believe everything Maier says. But I can confirm Crouere’s statement that Maier “privately mentioned many times” that Nungesser was a client, and that he had “off-menu” tastes that ran to $2,000 a pop. But if Maier is merely out to stir publicity, it’s difficult to understand why she would consistently tell the same story for years in private before finally divulging the name of the Plaquemines Parish president, way back in 2008.

Sunday’s Times-Picayune op-ed page featured a double whammy on Nungesser, courtesy of the “Gill and Grace” show. (In that show, by the way, I aspire to the role of their silly neighbor, Jack.)

Columnist James Gill, who got the ball rolling on this back in 2003, reminded us:

U.S. Sen. David Vitter is a big supporter [of Nungesser’s] too. One theory attributes this to Vitter’s displeasure last year when he was thought vulnerable on the hooker issue and Dardenne flirted with the possibility of running against him in the Republican primary.

But Nungesser is no stranger to prostitutes either, having been fingered in court as a customer of the celebrated Canal Street brothel, so Vitter may have felt an affinity with him regardless. Still, it must be admitted that Vitter is not exactly happy-go-lucky and a grudge against Dardenne cannot be ruled out.

Adding to the sense that the race is more than your average snake pit, T-P Columnist Stephanie Grace described how much Nungesser and Dardenne, two very different men, dislike each other. Each seeks an office that will afford an opportune perch for them to wait for Gov. Jindal to move on after re-election, perhaps in less than four years.

Grace also details how Nungesser couldn’t name the agencies overseen by the Lt. Governor’s office.

Dardenne occasionally noted that certain issues are outside the lieutenant governor’s purview. Nungesser said he wouldn’t be constrained by a job description.

Indeed, it seems the more Nungesser learns about the office he’s desperately campaigning to win, the less he likes the sound of its narrow constitutionally-mandated responsibilities. At a Tea Party debate in Baton Rouge, as reported in The Advocate,

Nungesser told the crowd of about 75 that if the job was only tourism, then he’d be in favor of doing away with the office. But he said he would expand his role to include tasks such as economic development and coastal restoration.

Voters interested in how Nungesser might expand the role of the office to include these broad initiatives (while also streamlining it) don’t get much help from his web page, which contains no specific plan or “issues” section.

You know I’m a fan of cryptic statements, so as we await the resolution to this vicious race, I recommend underlining this close from Sabludowsky’s “Buzz” column:

So, with slightly more than one week to go in this election, the relevant and relative abilities and platforms of the two who aim to be our next Lt. Governor and possibly our next Governor is not getting much focus.  Instead, the real story is who’s winning and the trappings of sex, sins and scandals.  And, you know what?  Something tells me this trend will continue through Louisiana Election Day should anyone care to stay around for the campaign desserts. 

Something definitely tells me the same thing.

Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and...