Zach Dasher (left) and his cousin, Duck Dyansty's Willie Robertson
Godlessness is leading the United States down a path toward "tyranny and death," according to Louisiana Republican congressional candidate Zach Dasher. A nephew of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, Dasher is challenging incumbent GOP Rep. Vance McAllister in the November election. He made the comments in a 2012 episode of his personal podcast, Willing to Think.
Teasing a discussion of political correctness, Dasher asked, "Am I going to talk about the entitlement mindset of nearly half of our country that is really going to end in utter despair if we don't do something about it? Am I going to talk about how this swift drift away from God will usher in tyranny and death? Well, I probably will talk about that today."
He returned to the subject at the end of the episode:
We will only regress if we shut our mouths. Tyranny will get its foothold—if it already doesn't have it—and in the end, there will be mass carnage and mass death. It's inevitable. 'Oh, Zach, you are such an overreactor; you're like Alex Jones.' Look: I'm here with a philosophy. This is no conspiracy theory; this is a philosophy rooted in historical fact. Every society that has shut down people from discussing things about politics God, faith, when you silence people, every time that happens in a society, you know what happens? Tyranny and death. Every single time.
In another episode of the podcast, Dasher blamed rejection of God for a rise in anxiety disorders. "I know it's not politically correct, but there is a huge element of depression and anxiety disorders that is wrapped up in what I'm saying today," he said. In September, BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski reported on comments Dasher made in other episodes of Willing to Think, in which the candidate blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on atheism. (He also argued that the popular millennial acronym "YOLO" is corrosive because it promotes an atheistic disregard for the afterlife.)
Dasher has put his faith front and center during the race. The campaign headquarters in West Monroe features an envelope taped to the outside of the glass door, instructing supporters to "leave your your prayers or scriptures." In an appearance on Fox News in June, he told Sean Hannity, "My platform begins with God."
Robertson, who supported McAllister during the special election for the seat in 2013, jumped ship after McAllister was caught on tape kissing a female staffer and now backs his kin. At a Lake Charles fundraiser, he referred to the first-time candidate as "my little nephew who came from the loins of my sister."
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has a plan to stop Ebola: File a restraining order. Caldwell, a Republican, called the proposal to dispose of Dallas Ebola victim Eric Duncan's incinerated belongings at a Lake Charles landfill "absurd" and pledged to use the legal process to stop the transfer. WBRZ Baton Rouge reports:
"We certainly share sadness and compassion for those who have lost their lives and loved ones to this terrible virus, but the health and safety of our Louisiana citizens is our top priority. There are too many unknowns at this point," Caldwell said. The Louisiana Attorney General's Office is in the process of finalizing the application for temporary restraining order and expects it to be filed as early as Monday morning.
Additionally, the office is sending a demand letter to Texas state and federal officials, along with private contractors involved seeking additional information into the handling of this waste.
Caldwell, whose decision was quickly supported by GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, didn't offer any details on how burying the incinerated materials would affect the people of his state. It's hard to see any risk—Ebola is transmitted only through bodily fluids, and Chemical Waste Management Inc., which operates the storage facility, sees no problem. And it's not as if the ashes are going particularly far, anyway—Lake Charles is just a quick jaunt over I-10 from Port Arthur, Texas, where Duncan's belongings were burned.
But Caldwell's stance is especially bizarre in light of the great lengths Louisiana lawmakers have gone to position the state as a repository for every other kind of waste. Fracking waste disposal, for instance, has become a $30 billion industry nationwide over the last decade. Much of that wastewater has been dumped into old wells in Louisiana. Louisiana may also soon begin accepting thousands of tons of other states' shale wastewater, which will be shipped down the Mississippi on barges. In Louisiana you can even store radioactive materials in an abandoned salt cavern, and then, after the salt cavern collapses, creating a massive sinkhole and forcing hundreds of people to permanently relocate, pour wastewater directly into the sinkhole. Just don't try to truck the ashes of an Ebola victim's belongings across the Sabine.
Eight weeks before election day, Democrats' best hope in Louisiana's sixth congressional district is at the VIP room of an all-you-can-eat restaurant in Denham Springs, talking about his baggage.
"When I was here in 1971, I was running for governor and nobody knew me, and that was not too good," Edwin Edwards explains to the local Kiwanis Club, in his French-inflected Acadia Parish cadence. "Now I'm running for Congress and everybody knows me and that's not good."
After eight years in federal prison for corruption and one-short-lived reality show, the 87-year-old Edwards is back. The former four-term governor and four-term congressman known for his womanizing and gambling (and one-liners about both) is gunning for the South Louisiana House seat being vacated by GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy, who is running for Senate.
But Edwards isn't even the strangest candidate in the race. The wide-open field also features 10 Republicans, four of whom could win: a self-proclaimed Sarah Palin disciple; a 28-year-old techie; an unabashed Koch brothers supporter; and an outspoken state senator.
James Lee Witt, candidate for Congress in Arkansas' 4th District, wipes away a fresh gob of tobacco spit with his brown cowboy boots and tells me about his old friend Bill.
"He was down here rededicating the Greers Ferry Dam…and he called me after that, because my wife had passed away you know, and he…visited with me for a little while," Witt says, recalling a recent conversation with the 43rd president, as we wait for the start of a parade in Arkadelphia. "I said, 'I need to tell you something,' and he said 'What's that'" I said, 'I think I'm gonna run for Congress in the 4th District.' And he said"—here Witt breaks into his finest Clinton impression—"'James Lee, I think that's a great idea!'"
This year's Iowa Senate race—a key contest that could determine whether Republicans gain control of the upper body—has so far not been shaped by titanic policy issues. Instead, farm animals have played a larger role. GOP state Sen. Joni Ernst, who is up against Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in this much-watched face-off, got a boost from an ad in which she bragged about castrating hogs. Braley has been hurt by the news that he allegedly threatened* a lawsuit against a neighbor whose chickens had wandered into his yard. Ernst has accused Braley of sexism for including stock footage of baby chickens—i.e., "chicks"—in an ad that asserted she had not made a "peep" about cutting government pork.
This may not be shocking for a Senate race in the Hawkeye State. But what is surprising is that the campaign has not been much affected by a series of controversial, extreme, or just plain dumb remarks Ernst has made—and her subsequent denials that she said them.
Here are a few examples of Ernst's out-there statements:
Ernst has alleged that the federal government is partnering with the United Nations to force Iowans off their land and into urban cores as part of a conspiracy called Agenda 21. At a campaign event last November, she said:
All of us agreed that Agenda 21 is a horrible idea. One of those implications to Americans, again, going back to what did it does do to the individual family here in the state of Iowa, and what I've seen, the implications that it has here is moving people off of their agricultural land and consolidating them into city centers, and then telling them that you don't have property rights anymore. These are all things that the UN is behind, and it's bad for the United States and bad for families here in the state of Iowa.
At a candidate forum in January, she said that President Obama has "become a dictator" and should be impeached.
Meeting with business leaders in late August, she complained about the existence of federal minimum wage. Here's what she said, per the Mason City (Iowa) Globe Gazette:
The minimum wage is a safety net. For the federal government to set the minimum wage for all 50 states is ridiculous…The standard of living in Iowa is different than it is in New York or California or Texas. One size does not fit all.
She told the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition last September that federal laws can be nullified by states:
She told the Des Moines Register editorial board in May that the United States really did find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Per my colleague Pat Caldwell:
"We don't know that there were weapons on the ground when we went in," she said, "however, I do have reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." When a Register reporter quizzed her on what information she has, Ernst said, "My husband served in Saudi Arabia as the Army Central Command sergeant major for a year and that's a hot-button topic in that area."
She said at a GOP primary debate in May that abortion providers "should be punished" and zygotes should be granted full constitutional protection if the state passed a "personhood" amendment—and in 2013, sponsored a bill in the state Senate to make that possible.
Ernst is hailed by supporters as a straight-talking candidate who will stick to her conservative principles. But throughout this campaign, she has been quick to walk away from her most bizarre statements as soon as she's challenged on them.
When asked by Yahoo News last month about her suggestion that an international cabal would relocate her constituents to Des Moines, Ernst said, "I don't think that the UN Agenda 21 is a threat to Iowa farmers." When asked about impeachment in July, she insisted, "I have not seen any evidence that the president should be impeached." She added that "obviously" the president is not a dictator. In June, referring to the federal minimum wage, she said that, contra whatever she said earlier that month, "I never called for the abolishment of it. Never." In May, she walked back her weapons of mass destruction claim and conceded that Iraq had none at the time of the US invasion. Recently, Ernst attacked Braley for proposing an adjustment to the Social Security retirement age, while simultaneously making an identical proposal herself.
It's Braley's poultry-related gaffes—and not Ernst's Palinesque positions and subsequent clarifications—that have made the biggest political dent; the most recent poll of the race found Ernst with a 6-point edge. It's just easier to understand a claim about someone's character than it is an international conspiracy. "Something like Agenda 21—who knows about that?" says Tim Hagle, a political scientist at the University of Iowa. "But they understand the idea that my neighbor is suing me over chickens."
*Correction: This piece originally stated that Braley had sued his neighbor.