Outside view: Landrieu -- Sugar and spice

By HORACE COOPER, A UPI Outside view commentary  |  Feb. 25, 2003 at 5:19 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool some of the people all the time. You can fool all the people some of the time. But you can't fool all the people all the time." But don't tell that to the Mary Landrieu for Senate campaign.

During the final weeks of her successful campaign for re-election to the U.S. Senate, Democrat Mary Landrieu's campaign succeeded in convincing some Louisiana voters that as soon as the election was over tons of Mexican sugar would begin to pour in over the border.

This "secret" sugar deal, as the campaign spun it, would severely cripple Louisiana's own sugar industry. Furthermore, the campaign alleged, President George W. Bush was keeping quiet about it for partisan reasons. He did not want to damage Republican Suzanne Haik-Terrell's efforts to defeat Landrieu in the run-off election.

Just who was trying to fool whom? As it turns out, the allegations of a secret sugar deal were fabricated for political purposes. It's been three months since Landrieu was re-elected but no mountains of Mexican sugar have been reported headed north -- at least not in the way Landrieu's campaign put forward in its attempt to scare farmers into voting for her in the run-off.

Imports of Mexican sugar will, certainly, increase -- but not through some "secret" deal as Landrieu claimed. As part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. tariff on imported Mexican sugar is set to diminish over the next few years. By 2008, it is scheduled to disappear entirely.

This agreement was made long before December 2002 and long before George W. Bush moved into the White House. For the six years Landrieu served in the Senate prior to her re-election, the agreement was in place and she did nothing to change it.

If supposed threats to Louisiana's sugar industry had truly mattered, she had plenty of time to work with the U.S. Trade Representative's Office to stop them. She didn't. Now that she is safely returned to office for another six years, her interest in the issue has now apparently waned.

The cynical view is that Landrieu brought it up as a campaign issue to move likely GOP voters in her direction and so that she could later claim credit for stopping the avalanche of Mexican sugar from swamping the U.S. market when it didn't happen.

That's the sugar. Now the spice.

During the run-off, her campaign aired a radio ad in Spanish to remind certain voters of her record of assistance to the state's Latino community -- many who are of Honduran ancestry.

A key point in the ad stated that, as a senator, she has supported the nomination of Miguel Estrada, a Honduran immigrant, to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

"Mary Landrieu has worked close to the Hispanic Community ... Mary Landrieu, also supported the candidacy of the Honduran Miguel Estrada for the federal court of appeals," the translation reads.

By all accounts this spot helped bolster Landrieu's support among Latinos in the New Orleans area, which had been ebbed because of her strong support for abortion rights.

While the Democrats ran the Senate, the Estrada nomination languished -- for 19 months prior to November 2002. Once the results were known, that the GOP would be in charge of the U.S. Senate regardless of who won in Louisiana, everyone could predict with some accuracy that Estrada's nomination would now move forward. Thus this ad, created by her campaign and implying that Estrada's nomination would have her support once it got to the Senate floor, went out over the airwaves.

Demonstrating Lincoln's prescience, Landrieu has embraced the filibuster being mounted by her liberal Democrat colleagues to stop the vote on Estrada's nomination from occurring. How this squares with her plaintive campaign claim of being an independent voice in Washington is anyone's guess. Fellow Democrat and same-state colleague John Breaux, in whose aura Landrieu wrapped herself during the final weeks of the campaign, supports the nomination and opposes the filibuster.

Landrieu explains her apparent change of heart by calling it a misunderstanding. Once the ad came to light she explained, in classic political double-talk, that the volunteers with whom her campaign had worked to produce the ad had misinterpreted her neutrality as support for the nomination. She is, she now explains, always neutral on nominations until they come to the Senate floor.

If that has always been her position, then why didn't she -- or one of her campaign aides or media consultants -- correct the ad before it was broadcast? Simple. She wanted Louisiana's Latino community to believe she would be voting for Estrada -- just like she wanted the farmers to believe she supported them against the Republican's "secret" sugar deal with Mexico. As Paul Harvey might say, "And now you know -- the rest of the story."

-- Horace Cooper is a senior fellow with the Center for New Black Leadership

-- "Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in subjects of public interest.

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