Dean Blanchard says three prayers at night: “An Our Father, a Hail Mary… and I pray that the idiot in North Korea can figure out how to blow up Washington, DC, so we can start over.”
The Louisiana shrimp processor sat looking over the marina at Grand Isle, a ramshackle resort destination south of New Orleans on the Gulf of Mexico. Blanchard’s business was hit hard by the BP oil spill in 2010 and is still struggling. BP, he noted, is doing fine. Just two years after the spill, the company announced a record profit.
The BP spill may be the most obvious destruction that the oil and gas industry has inflicted on Louisiana, but a slower devastation is happening all along the coast: the equivalent of a football field an hour disappears as the land sinks and the ocean rises.
Yet Blanchard has an interesting preference in the state’s upcoming—and hotly contested—Senate race: he supports the incumbent Democrat, Mary Landrieu, who has staked her political survival on the unflagging promotion of fossil-fuel production. In February, the Democrats made her chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Landrieu has built her campaign around that influential position and the benefits it could bring to oil- and gas-rich Louisiana. In July, she promised to use her gavel to “increase offshore and onshore drilling” and to “reduce unnecessary and redundant regulations that cost time, money, and jobs.”
Blanchard doesn’t just support Landrieu—he’s on her campaign-finance committee. It’s not that he doesn’t know how the industry co-opts people like Landrieu; it’s more that he has no obvious alternative. Her main Republican challenger, Bill Cassidy, is just as tight with the industry. So Blanchard falls back on the other things Landrieu’s done that he finds more positive—as well as the somewhat odd justification that at least she hasn’t become a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry yet. “Every other politician we had in that position quit to become a lobbyist…. I mean, they all quit and left us and took the money,” he says. “We finally got one who wants to stay, and they want to vote her out. It’s hard for me to understand.”
Blanchard’s dilemma is far from unique. Landrieu exemplifies the subservience to energy interests that has defined Louisiana politics for decades. But like so many contests before it, the Senate race offers voters no referendum whatsoever on how much power the energy tycoons should have in the state. Moreover, given that the energy sector employs about 287,000 workers there, many people are forced into a Faustian bargain with an industry that is simultaneously employing them and wrecking their land.