Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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This Tea Partier Wants to Turn a 30-Acre Sinkhole Into a Campaign Issue

| Mon Nov. 3, 2014 11:14 AM EST
Rob Maness.

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.

Duck Dynasty Guy's Ad for Duck Dynasty Candidate Is the Full Duck Dynasty

| Mon Oct. 27, 2014 6:19 PM EDT

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.

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