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29.6.06

More GOP, fewer white Democrat officeholders coming

As noted previously, the new Act 560 which creates closed primaries for federal office in Louisiana will create more Republican registrations, fewer Democrats, and give “no party” (independent) registrants the option of voting in either party’s primaries for the U.S. House or Senate. How will this impact the specific parties, candidates, and present officeholders? If we divide the state’s electorate into three groups that comprise the bulk of the electorate, Republicans, white Democrats, and black Democrats, white Democrats lose to the other two groups, for different reasons.

By going to the closed primary system, black Democrats have become more likely to go farther in the electoral process. Recall that at present statewide whites make up only 54 percent of Democrat registrations, probably of which half routinely vote Republican in federal elections. This means among Democrats likely to vote in a party primary, blacks will outnumber whites substantially statewide. This also entails that, unless there is a large surplus of white independents relative to black independents that choose to participate in the Democrat (as opposed to the same-day Republican) primary, black candidates will win these nominations given very low proportion of black crossover votes to white candidates where there are viable white and black candidates in a contest (which is lower that rate of white crossover to black candidates).

In contrast, Republicans win out because their black opponents are likely to be more liberal than potential white opponents, and also because of crossover voting realities making these nominees less electable. Therefore, Republicans become more likely to win federal elections generally. To be more specific, regarding the present seven districts and the state:

  • At present, by using a simple formula of Republicans get all the Republican vote plus half of the remaining white Democrat vote and white Democrats get the other half plus all the black vote while “other” votes run slightly Democrat, every district in the state except the Second (mostly New Orleans) is competitive for a white Democrat against a Republican under the blanket primary system. But a black Democrat is not because of the loss of white support.
  • Using a simple formula that in a closed Democrat primary that a white candidate would get half of the white Democrat votes (the other because they really want to participate in the GOP primary or half sitting it out, worse for white candidates, because they want the GOP primary winner to win, they vote for a black candidate in the Democrat primary) and a black candidate all black votes, blacks will be favored to win nominations in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Districts, while the Third and Seventh will be close. Only in the First will a white be clearly able to win the nomination – and that district has the largest proportion of Republicans in the state, blatantly favoring a GOP candidate.
  • In effect, this means that, within a few years (as Republican numbers swell while white Democrat registration figures fall) under current districting, unless black politicians statewide deliberately give up all hope of being elected to the U.S. House, Louisiana reliably will send six Republicans and one black Democrat to the House. U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon probably is the last of his kind – if he isn’t knocked off later this year by a Republican, he may well be knocked out of a primary in 2008.
  • The same may go for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. She is likely to survive a closed primary because of incumbency and past extensive black support that would keep too many black votes from slipping away. But using the same formula against any other white Democrat, a black candidate would be the Democrats senatorial nominee. This means U.S. Sen. David Vitter can rest more easily, and once Landrieu is gone, both seats are likely to remain in Republican hands on a consistent basis.

    Some observers may have wondered by a coalition of Republicans and black Democrats supported the bill that produced this change. The answer should be obvious by a review of these facts and data: black Democrats become more powerful in the party by their ability to get more nominations for federal office, while Republicans become more likely to win these offices. The biggest mystery is why Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a white Democrat, signed the bill. But there’s no mystery that, as a result, white Democrat federal officeholders will become nearly extinct, and Republicans candidates will benefit the most.
  • 28.6.06

    GOP wins, Democrats lose with new closed primaries

    Oddly, Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed SB 18 into law. I write “oddly” because it reduces more than ever the political clout of what she purports to be, the white presumed conservative, Democrat, and increases the electoral fortunes of Republicans running for federal offices everywhere in Louisiana.

    The new law creates a closed primary system for federal elections for U.S. representative and senator. Accordingly, only people registered with a party and any no party (independent) voters if not prohibited by the party will be able to vote in a party primary the first Saturday of September. If no candidate receives an absolute majority, a runoff will be held the first Saturday in October among the two highest finishers. This is in contrast to the present blanket primary system (often incorrectly called an “open” primary; an open primary is one where the state allows independents or any voter to choose a single party primary in which to vote) which has no party primaries so all candidates run together that for federal elections will end after the 2006 election cycle.

    Heretofore, partisanship has meant nothing in Louisiana when registering to vote since there was no reward or punishment associated with the choice. This situation has changed, and the following alterations to the electoral environment will occur, according to the voluminous research in the political science discipline.

    First, neither party will prohibit independents from voting in their primaries, for two different reasons. Understand that parties in open primary states often do not like the situation where non-party members get access to influence a party nominee. However, independent registrants are the least likely to turn out, all other things equal, and Republicans in their core white constituency are half again larger in number than such other party members in the state (and this imbalance will continue to grow in the party’s favor over time, as noted below). Hence, the GOP will not fear “raiding” and by opening its elections may even use them to gain converts: people who are not of a certain party label but who begin to consistently vote in that party’s primaries are extremely likely to change their registrations after time. This also includes Democrats as well, and conditions their response to the new electoral environment.

    Second, Democrats’ reason to keep their elections open will be fear by the whites who currently control the state party to prevent loss of influence by them and their candidates. Reviewing the statewide situation by the latest official statistics shows that only 54 percent of Democrats now are white, and that doesn’t reflect voting behavior on the ground where probably half that total consistently votes Republican at the federal level. Starting in a few months there will be a mass exodus of white Democrats into the GOP because they will want to have a say in voting for federal nominees. State white Democrat leaders now are forced to count on (more like “hoping”) white independents can take up the slack, since whites outnumber such blacks almost three to one in the party. They also hope this leads to conversion.

    Third, among new registrants, independent registrations will rise somewhat although at a slower rate, but the main beneficiaries will be Republicans (and thus Democrats will suffer a loss). This is because, attitudinally speaking, to an individual who places any importance on political self-conception, they will wish to choose a label consistent with that. Now that the labels are infused with more meaning because they confer a benefit or cost (ability or inability to vote for a preferred candidate), the label relevancy makes a choice more likely, especially because politics for most people is an enterprise of sporadic salience. And, for the above reason, the Republican label will become, relative to the past, disproportionately favored.

    In other words, a new voter not very interested in politics (the typical situation) now facing increased label salience no longer will be likely to pick a label just because his parents always were that, or for some other trivial reason (the only benefit or cost presently associated with party labels in Louisiana, voting in a presidential preference primary every four years, is hardly that given the virtual meaninglessness of those contests in the state the last few elections and the low turnouts associated with them). They also are less likely to choose “no party” for the same reason (some might think strategically enough to choose the label to maintain flexibility, but these are very much the exception among those who call themselves independents, not the rule, research shows).

    Therefore, over the next few years we can expect to see a surge of Republican registrations, a decline in Democrat registrations, and probably a minor decline in “no party” number in Louisiana. How will this specifically affect the parties and their candidates? Please return to this space tomorrow to find out.

    27.6.06

    Marriage initiatives would help Louisiana children

    The annual KIDS COUNT data by the Annie E. Casey Foundation are out and, as usual, are discouraging for Louisiana, perhaps even moreso because reforms in two major policy areas have been ongoing since 1996 in the state and nothing seems to have changed. The state ranks 49th on its ten-item index.

    In 1996, at the federal level welfare reform pushed people off of welfare rolls and into jobs or training for work. The measures dramatically increased the quality of life for many as well as assisted in providing more economic opportunity that lead to overall economic growth. At the state level, Louisiana embarked upon major educational reform, stressing standards and accountability for students and for schools (although at best indirectly for the teachers themselves).

    By the time this data were collected (for the most part 2003), enough of an interval should have passed for noticeable improvement in Louisiana to have occurred. Instead, on the 10 indicators used by the Foundation, from 2000 on most of them Louisiana has gotten worse. The only indicators on which any (limited) progress seems to have been made are the educational ones and a reduction in child deaths. All indicators are far inferior to U.S. averages.

    So what seems to be the problem? Some clues come from the fact that an astounding proportion of children live in single-parent households, 44 percent, and that an incredible 47.5 percent of births are to single mothers – again, both way above the national average. (In fact, Louisiana’s average in 1990 on the latter was higher than the 2003 national average) Time and again data show us children in this environment will grow up disadvantaged (as reflected in many of the statistics used in KIDS COUNT) and this will place additional burdens on them into their adult years.

    This is particularly true regarding, and part of the reason why Louisiana ranks so lowly is because of its relatively high proportion of, black households headed by single females. In the latest 2004 Census Bureau data, the poverty rate for black families who are married with related children under 18 was 11.8 percent, below the national overall average. For single black women with related children under 18, it was a staggering 56.8 percent. Black single women heading a household comprise 33.6 percent of total Louisiana households, and 22 percent of those with related children under 18. These relative proportions are also reflected in Louisiana’s non-black households, just at rates a little lower.

    Better education and more economic opportunity help, but included in these simple facts is policy to boost the percentage of children in married households would also. Reauthorization of the welfare reform provisions at the federal level within the last year recognized this and has set aside funding for marriage initiatives. Has Louisiana taken advantage of this?

    If so, it’s not at all obvious. Trawling through the 2006-07 state budget reveals a smattering of spending that might be used to promote marriage. You might argue a small portion of the $5.5 million set aside to reduce teen pregnancies could apply since most of these are from single women. Or maybe a “Community Response Initiative with a two-fold purpose of reducing poverty and assisting in the recovery of Louisianians through Community-Based competitive grants directed toward innovative programming in high risk parishes of the state” at $3.5 million total might get a few dollars directed a such programs.

    But that’s about it. Contrast that with the $2,282,767 through the same budget schedule the state will dole out to a number of local nonprofits, some of which are fine organizations (such as specific Boy Scouts and Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs organizations) and others more questionable (why does the Capitol High School Alumni Association merit $250,000 for renovations and repairs to a facility for community activities, and what does this have to do with social services?), but why are state taxpayers financing these things? Especially when it could use these state dollars with federal dollars for marriage initiatives – or even the $100,000 the Foundation gives it “to coordinate reform recommendations for children and families in Louisiana?”

    26.6.06

    Court decision makes "Choose Life" tags a state matter

    Among the string of decisions of increased sensibility coming out of the U.S. Supreme Court lately concerns a challenge to Louisiana’s specialty license plate, “Choose Life.” Louisiana law permits issuing this tag for a premium, but the state has not done so for years because of legal challenges the Court now has brushed aside.

    Foolishly. District Judge Stanwood Duval had ruled the law unconstitutional saying it put the state in the business of promoting private speech. The state argued the end product of a law allowing such plates emanated from the public policy process which the state executed, not from the state itself.

    A previous Court decision plus a separate decision from a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel said the constitutional question at hand was whether states could have such a program that would produce plates which could advocate a particular issue preference. As such, this was a tax dispute matter internal to the state that could not be entertained in federal court. The full Court agreed on an 8-8 split and the Supreme Court agreed with that court by refusing to hear that case, a non-decision triggered by yet another circuit’s decision that contradicted another’s.

    Will opponents finally let it go? Probably not, as they know they are big losers in the court of public opinion (their efforts to create a rhetorically-challenged “Choose Choice” plate, a euphemism for “Choose Death,” was defeated legislatively). The decision instructs opponents to go through the Tax Injunction Act (28 U.S.C. § 1341) which simply means it is a matter for Louisiana jurisprudence under the Louisiana Constitution. They may hope they can find some way to get a handful of judges in the state to abrogate the law.

    Proper jurisprudence would not validate their arguments. The federal court ruling that the additional fee for the plates is a tax, even of the voluntary kind, makes the issuance of such plates squarely a political matter, not one that is within the purview of free speech or any other constitutional clauses under Louisiana’s Constitution. That would mean their relief is from convincing the Legislature to pass the “Choose Death” plates, not through the judicial system.

    But, who knows with the judiciary in this state? No doubt they’ll try, but if things work out properly, the state will be selling these tags without any legal problems as soon as possible.