By Robert Mann
I meant to post this on Sunday, but the week got away from me. I don’t normally recommend columns in the Baton Rouge Advocate by Quin Hillyer, as they mostly resemble a better-written version of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s press releases of the prior week.
That said, Hillyer’s column last Sunday was a thing of wonder and a fascinating examination of Sen. David Vitter’s utter lack of decency (truly, his prostitution scandal pales in comparison to Hillyer’s sordid tale).
I suggest you read the column in its entirely, but here’s a taste to whet your appetite:
Former Gov. Dave Treen, holding a narrow lead in a special for Congress, had suspended campaign activity with less than a week remaining. His 20-year-old grandson, Jason Neville, had disappeared while hiking in the Oregon wilderness, presumably without proper survival gear, and Treen had flown west to catalyze a massive search.
Back in Louisiana, opponent David Vitter, a state representative, made the right noises about praying for Jason’s safety — but, behind the scenes, continued his own campaign, which included remarkably harsh attacks against the inoffensive Treen. Vitter was helped, with a wink and a nod, by Klansman David Duke, who in a clever bit of spite had “endorsed” his archenemy Treen while the Vitter campaign (allegedly; the evidence was compelling) blanketed black neighborhoods with flyers associating Treen with Duke.
Considering Treen’s long history of working feverishly to hamper Duke’s career, this was a particularly low blow. Indeed, as Treen contemplated whether to enter the race, I had driven to Treen’s home from my then-perch at the Mobile Register for 90 minutes of “just talking politics” about his pending decision. Conversation details were off the record, but it breaks no trust to say that of two main considerations impelling Treen, the one he emphasized to me almost obsessively was his concern that Duke would make a runoff and embarrass the state if he, Treen, with his well-known name, didn’t enter the fray to block him. (The second reason was Treen’s contention that his prior service in Congress would be valuable for Louisiana’s interests.) . . . .
Treen returned home, two days before the election, to discover the flyers falsely tying him to Duke, along with reports of other Vitter tactics he considered “dirty tricks.” Appearing exhausted, overwrought and suddenly much older than his 70 years, Treen rashly appeared on TV, lobbing angry responses. His disastrous appearance undercut much of the sympathy his ordeal had hitherto attracted.
African-Americans, a small minority of the district, turned out only lightly — but they voted overwhelmingly for Vitter, ratifying Duke’s reverse-psychology gambit. The estimated margin in black precincts more than provided the difference for Vitter’s slim, 1,812-vote victory (61,661 to 59,849).