Last week when Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne, a Republican, endorsed Democrat John Bel Edwards in the runoff for governor there was a firestorm from Republicans – one of whom called Dardenne the party's “Benedict Arnold.”

       That’s a pretty strong statement. To be a Benedict Arnold (used as an adjective) is in the eye of the beholder. To England's King George III, practically everyone who fought against the mother country, including the revered George Washington, was a Benedict Arnold. In fact, one of the few people who was not Benedict Arnold-like was Benedict Arnold, who the king might have seen as fighting a proper cause.

    Dardenne’s endorsement of Edwards is no doubt less sinister. There are a lot of people who are registered Republicans who just flat out don’t like David Vitter. Party loyalty, like religion, is a matter of degree. Some people are orthodox, some are casual participants; some carry the label in name only.

       If there is any party that shouldn't be too outraged by party infidelity it is the Louisiana Republicans. The present party rose to power on the back of former Democrats who switched party affiliation in the years after the passage of the federal voting right’s bill. Just about every suburban politician was a former conservative Democrat who switched to Republican.

       And the splintering continued: In 1979 Republican David Treen (a former Democrat) got into the gubernatorial runoff against Democrat Lt. Governor Jimmie Fitzmorris. But when the votes were recounted another candidate, Public Service Commissioner Louis Lambert, also a Democrat, slipped past Fitzmorris into the runoff spot. There was outrage and charges of chicanery. Lawsuits were filed. The courts ultimately decided that they could not resolve the issue. Fitzmorris, however, and three other Democrats who were in the race all endorsed Treen who, on the strength of that support, would win. It was the Democrats who got the Republican elected over another Democrat.

       There was more. In 1988 Democrat Buddy Roemer was elected governor. Once in office he switched to Republican. Those chronic Democrats who voted for Roemer must have felt betrayed.

      All of the above transactions are Democrat to Republican. Dardenne’s move was in the opposite direction, Republican to Democrat, but no more of a sin. Sometimes people make controversial moves for reasons that are political; but sometimes they take positions just because they think it is the right thing to do.

       Thin is the line that often separates treason from righteousness.



BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book websites.