A state judge has forbidden Steve Scalise to air an advertisement that portrays Tim Burns, his Republican opponent in the 1st Congressional District race, as soft on crime.
In a petition to the 22nd District Court in Covington, Burns said the ad contained "false, misleading and prejudicial lies" and misrepresented his voting record as a state representative for the Mandeville-Lacombe area. Judge Donald Fendlason on Tuesday ordered the spot off the air and scheduled a hearing for Scalise to contest the decision.
The hearing date is Tuesday, three days after Saturday's GOP runoff to decide whether Burns or Scalise goes on to the general election for Congress.
"It seems very suspect that they set the hearing for a date after the election," Scalise said. "Our attorneys are looking at options to proceed so that we can get the facts to the voters."
Burns' petition to the court represents an unusual step in a political campaign and is made all the more extreme by Fendlason's order.
"It's rare to go to court to settle a controversy that arises from the content of advertisements," said David Wasserman, who is analyzing congressional races nationwide for the Cook Political Report in Washington.
The Scalise ad, which was broadcast beginning Monday, stated that Burns "voted for early release of drug dealers" and "even voted to suspend the sentences of those convicted of drug crimes." It listed two bills, House Bill 525 of the 2005 regular session and Senate Bill 228 of the 2006 regular session, as the source of those assertions.
SB 228 provided that certain offenders with two prior convictions could be sentenced to a drug court program and probation, instead of prison. According to legislative records, Burns was absent when the motion to adopt SB 228 came for a vote. Earlier, he had voted to move the bill from the House calendar onto the floor for debate.
Burns called the ad's wording "an intentional and cheap attempt to mislead the public," noting that Scalise, a state representative at the time and now a state senator from Jefferson, was also absent for the final vote. Scalise, unlike Burns, had voted earlier against debating the measure.
A Scalise spokesman said the ad is true because Burns approved bringing the measure to a vote, rather than let it die as Scalise did. "What he voted for was to have the bill move forward. Steve voted against it because he didn't want to move it forward," said the spokesman, Lucas Bolar.
Burns also disputed the ad's spin on HB 525, which made drug offenders serving life sentences eligible for parole after seven years instead of 20. Burns voted for the measure but characterized it as allowing suspension and deferral of some drug-related sentences, not "early release of drug dealers."
"I think because I'm doing well, he's going from grasping at straws to outright falsehoods," Burns said of the Scalise attack. "It's clear to me that he'll say anything or do anything to advance his cause, even if it's unethical or illegal."
Scalise led the March 8 Republican primary with 48 percent of the vote to Burns' 28 percent. Two other candidates were eliminated.
As evidence that he is gaining ground, Burns cites a poll commissioned by his campaign showing him trailing Scalise by only three points in mid-March. A Scalise poll from the same period showed Scalise ahead by 57 percent to 26 percent.