Tea party Senate candidate Rob Maness has found an issue he believes will resonate with Louisiana voters: a 30-acre, oil-burping sinkhole. During a debate with Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu on Tuesday, Maness was asked about a lawsuit over coastal erosion filed against 100 oil and gas companies last spring by a local flood protection board. For too long, the retired Air Force colonel warned, oil, gas, and chemical companies had had their way with Louisiana, with little government oversight and often at great cost to residents: "The families of Bayou Corne—it's been over 600 days since they've been under evacuation."
As I reported last summer, the town of Bayou Corne, in rural Assumption Parish, has been under a mandatory evacuation order since August 2012, when a sinkhole suddenly formed from an abandoned salt-mining cavern. The hole has grown to 30 acres, and the presence of potentially dangerous gases underneath the community—and bubbling on the bayou—has kept residents away. In August, Texas Brine, the company that had capped and abandoned the cavern, settled a class-action lawsuit with 269 residents for $48.1 million, but avoided any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
Perhaps wary of upsetting Louisiana's powerful oil and gas interests, politicians have largely avoided the sinkhole. Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal dropped by for a press conference in 2013, but has never returned. But last month, Maness became the first candidate for statewide office to visit the sinkhole. He's even touting the endorsement of one of the main sources for my story, Bayou Corne resident Mike Schaff:
Maness for Senate
Maness lags behind his two main opponents in the polls, but he will probably fare well enough to ensure that neither Landrieu nor Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy will clear the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. He has also picked up the endorsement of prominent conservative activists, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Red State founder Erick Erickson—which makes his choice of an environmental disaster as a campaign wedge issue all the more noteworthy.
On Tuesday, tens of millions of Americans will brave long lines and various forms of precipitation to elect the public servants that best represent their democratic values. For better or for worse. Here's a quick guide to the candidates we can't believe might actually win—whether because of legal troubles, crushing hypocrisy, basic math, or some combination thereof. It is by no means comprehensive.
George P. Bush speaks at the 2000 Republican National Convention.
George Prescott Bush was campaigning before he knew why. In January, the Fort Worth resident, investor, politico, Navy reservist, and grandson of the 41st president and nephew of the 43rd, announced he was forming an exploratory committee to run for office in Texas. For which office? He didn't say. Weeks went by, and then finally, in the spring, he tweeted a housekeeping update: He would aim to become the state's next land commissioner.
But Bushes aren't groomed from birth to run the General Land Office, even though it is a deceptively powerful agency. Responsible for managing 13 million acres of public land and administering mineral leases, its cachet comes from the fact that almost all of Texas' public lands are controlled by the state, not the federal government. As such, it provides a natural platform for ambitious politicians. And Bush is ambitious. Already, he is being courted by 2016 presidential candidates, traveling out of state for big speeches, and holding court on the Sunday shows. In a state where Democrats haven't won a single statewide race since 1994, George P. is a safe bet on next Tuesday's Election Day.
Zach Dasher, a Republican businessman running for Congress in Louisiana's fifth district, has one major thing going for him: He's the nephew of Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan. And he appears to be squeezing everything he can out of the connection. In a new ad, Robertson, who was suspended by A&E last year over comments he made in a GQ interview on homosexuality and race, holds up a Bible and a rifle, as an acoustic version of "Amazing Grace" plays in the background. "Hey, Louisiana," Robertson says. "Bibles and guns brought us here. And Bibles and guns will keep us here. Zach Dasher believes in both. That's why I'm voting for him."
The ad's content isn't much of a surprise. Dasher has made his faith (and Duck Dynasty ties) a central part of his campaign, has said godlessness is driving America toward "tyranny and death," and worries that the term "YOLO" encourages atheism by discounting the idea of an afterlife. Robertson has also raised money for Dasher, at one fundraiser referring to the candidate as "my little nephew who came from the loins of my sister."
Ahead of a special election for the seat in 2013, Willie Robertson, Dasher's cousin, cut an ad for Rep. Vance McAllister, but the incumbent congressman has fallen out of favor with the family since he was caught on tape kissing a staffer.
South Dakota Senate candidate Rick Weiland (right) at the Rosebud Indian Reservation
Earlier this year, Kevin Killer collected 1,193 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot to change the name of Shannon County, South Dakota. The county, which includes much of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, is named for former Dakota Territory Supreme Court Chief Justice Peter Shannon, who was instrumental in the passage of the Dawes Act, which separated American Indians from their land. The proposed new name: Oglala Lakota County, after the tribe that calls Pine Ridge home.
The initiative needs a two-thirds majority to pass. In a county where 93 percent of voters are American Indians, Killer, a Democratic state representative, believes the name change could be a boon for turnout. That would be good news for Democrats in Washington, DC, who see South Dakota as the place where they could save their Senate majority. Rick Weiland, a progressive Democrat, is locked in a tight three-way race against former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds and former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler (who is running as an independent). Weiland is banking on Native Americans—and a string of new reforms that make it easier to vote on reservations—to push him across the finish line.