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25.10.07

Odom takes one for team to boost Democrat runoff chances

Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom proved his intense loyalty to Louisiana Democrats by taking one for his party by his withdrawal from the contest for an eighth term.

Odom was unlikely to win against challenger Republican state Rep. Mike Strain, given the electoral calculus even though he narrowly led Strain 41-40 percent after the primary. It was anticipated that almost no votes from the other two defeated GOP challengers would come Odom’s way in the general election runoff.

Normally, that would not have been a consideration given that Republican Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal polished off his competition in the primary. With highly motivated voters for change pushing buttons for Jindal at the voting booth, his removal from the general election runoff ordinarily would have meant disproportionately Republican voters would have stayed home without Jindal on the ballot, giving Odom a fighting chance. Odom had the most comprehensive political organization among state Democrats, with the ability to most easily activate Democrats to turn out and vote for him and the party’s other candidates.

But the problem was Odom polarized and activated Republican voters as well. He became the symbol of the excesses inherent to liberalism and populism in Louisiana. Having himself on the ballot would energize Republicans and reformers to turn out to vote against him – and, along the way, disproportionately to vote against other Democrats as well.

Which is why he made the decision to bail out. His chances were less than even to beat Strain, and by his deferral the chances of Democrat James “Buddy” Caldwell to defeat Republican Royal Alexander for attorney general increase, as well as the chances of Democrat legislative candidates to win their runoffs. The desire to support Jindal and to defeat Odom animated Republican and reform voters. Jindal by natural circumstances is now off the ballot, and by choice Odom has removed himself as well.

This means GOP candidates like Alexander will have to work harder to secure victory in November. Without antipathy to Odom to drive some of their voters to the polls, they’ll have to find other ways to get them fired up enough to turn out in sufficient number to bring victory, to offset the organization that Odom still controls that will do its best to get Democrat voters to the polls even without him on the ballot.

It’s fitting that Odom ends his political career this way, putting the needs of his party first. For him, it never was about what was best for Louisiana but, rather, what was best for himself and his allies. Nonetheless, it is a welcome end to an undesirable chapter in Louisiana political history.

24.10.07

To overcome Democrats, Jindal will need much skill

The question is, can Louisiana Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal govern effectively especially in enacting his program into law with a Legislature of whom the majority could be hostile towards it?

Because his conservative platform is a radical shift from the state’s populist past preferred by the vast majority of Democrats (and a few RINOs) in previous Legislatures, only by Republicans winning a majority in both chambers would there be a margin of error for Jindal in accomplishing these policy goals. But at the start of his term there won’t be such a majority in the Senate, where last weekends election results put Democrats in line to have a minimum of 22 seats, two more than majority with four partisan contests to go. In the House, they are assured of at least 46 seats, seven short of the majority with 16 partisan contests to go (since one features a Democrat vs. independent match).

We can gauge the likely partisan composition of the next Legislature by using a formula I discovered in assessing the power of incumbency, and thereby the effect term limits would have on this election cycle, which I used in a presentation of a paper at a professional meeting earlier this year. That is, when an incumbent doesn’t run, Republicans win if the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is less than 2.66, and Democrats win if it is greater than 2.66.

Applying this to races outstanding, the final composition of the chambers would be a split of remaining races in the Senate to make it 24-15, and in the House the formula says Democrats will pick up 6 and the GOP 8 (two other contests feature an incumbent from each party). However, since the winner of the Democrat vs. independent match likely will caucus with Democrats (just as the existing reelected independent caucuses with the Republicans), Democrats look very good to retain a majority, if a slim one.

That means the House won’t be too much trouble for Jindal. On his legislation, he’ll almost always be able to find a few votes across the aisle, even if a Republican here or there abandons him, given the more conservative nature of some Democrat newcomers.. The Senate is another story. He’ll need more than a fifth of the projected Democrat contingent to defect on these votes – assuming perfect loyalty among Republicans. He could get that on some issues, but particularly in the areas of tax cutting and changing budget priorities this will be a hard sell given liberal/populist background of almost all of the Democrats.

On these bills will come the true test of Jindal’s skill. On the one hand, Jindal had said he will not allow “slush funds” to go forward – ladling out state money for local projects that appear of low priority, if not are dubious, in nature. On the other hand, blessing such measures in the capital budget may be the surest way to attract some Democrat votes.

The need to get a favorable Legislature also may test Jindal’s statement that he would not be intervening in these runoffs or in the selection process of the officers of the chambers. This is particularly relevant in the Senate not just because it will have a bigger Democrat majority, but because the oft-named Democrat president candidate, state Sen. Joe McPherson, is a dyed-in-the-wool opponent of Jindal’s plans to modernize health care in the state. McPherson, who has interests in nursing homes, has consistently opposed shifting the emphasis away from the state’s costly and wasteful emphasis on institutional-based health care towards the more efficient and effective focus on community- and individual-based care. Jindal cannot afford to have such an obstacle in the way of reforming the most costly discretionary function of state government.

Hardcore liberals in the Legislature are going to resist Jindal with everything they’ve got because his priorities will endanger their power and privilege as success by him will invalidate their worldviews and arguments in the eyes of voters – and failure on his part will do the opposite and discredit him in the eyes of some. But if Jindal plays for keeps, even the Senate may have enough votes for his programs so it doesn’t become a roadblock to needed change.

23.10.07

Left reacts to growing Jindal threat to its power, privilege

Already liberals and their media allies are finding creative ways to rain on Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal’s parade. Expect them to do their best to continue this over the next four years because of the fundamental threat Jindal represents to their hold on power and privilege.

Upon Jindal’s election, news reports surfaced about how his relatives and others of Indian heritage celebrated the win. So the next day a story appears to inform us that “not all Indian-Americans were celebrating.” One must wonder where this came from, or why it was a story at all. Did the Louisiana Gannett News Service editors see the other story and suddenly felt inspired to find somebody of Indian background to provide an opposing view? Or did some political operatives, displeased at Jindal’s election, volunteer to give an opposing view?

Regardless of how he came to the attention of the media, one Toby Chaudhuri said he had “mixed feelings” about Jindal’s election. He said Jindal wasn’t the “typical Indian-American” because he was a conservative Republican and because of his Catholic faith. Of course, it would appear that this Chaudhuri is something of a moron because he called the Republican Party “historically a white-only party” and also asserted that “Jindal may have cornered the Mother Teresa vote, but Mahatma Gandhi certainly would have opposed him on principle.”

22.10.07

Black votes for Jindal least of LA Democrats' worries

So just what was the black vote for Republican Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal, and how does the black vote play into the larger picture of Louisiana state politics going forward?

While one demographer asserts Jindal got about 10 percent of the vote, another demographer claims it was in the “low single digits.” There’s no real way to tell unless one polled a sample of the black electorate, but one common trick to find a figure is to take heavily black-majority precincts and use them as an estimator of vote.

So I did. There are 204 precincts across Louisiana where blacks outnumber whites at least 40:1 and blacks comprise at least 95 percent of the registered electorate (as of Oct. 1). Upon calculating the Jindal vote proportion overall in them (representing nearly 139,000 black registrants, or about a sixth of the state’s total), the figure was about 7 percent.

That splits the middle between 10 and low single digits, and is half of what I thought he would pull, but his real total probably is closer to 10 if not higher. This is for two reasons. First, early voting tends to attract upper-income people, blacks included, who were more likely to vote for Jindal (he had over 60 percent of that vote) which, because demographic information doesn’t exist that can be associated with these voters in state statistics, means that Jindal’s vote proportion among regular voters, including blacks, will be lower, although not by much.

More contaminating is that almost every of the 204 precincts studied is lower-income in nature. Obviously the majority of the state’s blacks don’t live in these and a significant portion is higher income. These blacks are more likely to vote Republican but there is no way to disaggregate their data.

(Interestingly, Republican-turned-independent candidate John Georges got over 27 percent of this estimated vote, most prominently in the New Orleans area, while the two major Democrats pulled about 61 percent. In other words, over a third of blacks voted for essentially Republican candidates.)

This technique also yields a statewide turnout total for blacks of 29 percent (one of the demographers estimated 35 percent which stands to reason since higher-income individuals which were disproportionately few in the precincts studied turn out at higher rates). Notably, estimated New Orleans black turnout was less than half the rates of Shreveport and Baton Rouge, both estimated at 39 percent while New Orleans scraped in at 17 percent. Even if these figures likely are low compared to the actual ones to be released by the state in a few days, New Orleans’ black turnout may not be even half of the 40 percent level of 2003.

These figures confirm the conventional wisdom that depopulation of New Orleans as a result of the hurricane disasters is affecting elections. That 23 percent drop represents about 42,000 black, mainly Democrat, voters. Combine this with non-estimated totals of depopulation of St. Bernard Parish, to a smaller degree Jefferson Parish (both which would be more Democrats than Republicans, although not as unbalanced as the Orleans losses), and turnout in this election probably is higher than in 2003.

Regardless, the preliminary numbers do suggest that 2005’s Katrina has made electoral life more difficult for Democrats at the statewide level.

21.10.07

Media already trying to rewrite meaning of Jindal win

Not a dozen hours had passed since Republican Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal had captured this prize when at least one media outlet began to rewrite the history and meaning of his victory, publicizing a mythology sure to be replicated across his term of service as governor the next four years.

Regular readers of this space know I present as a lead-in to the posting a media product concerning the subject of the column. If you click on the link at the end and read the article, you’ll find some facts and a lot of – often erroneous – speculation, but there are two things you will not discover from it: that Jindal is a Republican and he is a conservative.

Throughout, the article goes to great lengths to deny why Jindal really won. It implies that turnout was lower than it should have been, making the win seem less legitimate. It also appears to ascribe his achievement as one of luck, by catching a “break” here and there that conspired to give him weak opposition. Finally, echoing a theme sure to become conventional wisdom in the media much as the mistaken idea that Jindal lost in 2003 because social conservatives disproportionately did not vote for him (in reality my published research demonstrates his lack of support among blacks and social liberals and populists cost him), it says people voted for him out of “buyer’s remorse.”

Big night in LA for GOP, bigger for reformers, newcomers

As many anticipated, it is a good night for Republicans in Louisiana, but an even bigger night for reformers and newcomers in state politics.

Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal made history by winning the governor’s race as a non-incumbent without a general election runoff. Republican state Rep. Mike Strain forced incumbent Bob Odom into a runoff, and is likely to win there. And although he probably is the underdog, Republican Royal Alexander edged out incumbent Charles Foti to meet northeast Louisiana District Attorney James “Buddy” Caldwell. This means the Louisiana GOP now has a majority of the 7 statewide offices, and probably will have 5, maybe 6 of them after November 17.

In the Senate, Republicans made good progress. In District 31, a political newcomer knocked off a veteran Democrat House member for a pickup. In District 32, the same almost happened with Republican Neal Riser coming within a few votes of winning outright, which he probably will do in November. In District 1, a battle of House incumbents was won by A.G. Crowe to capture another seat. If Riser wins this would be a net GOP gain of 2, but Republican candidates will have to hold seats in districts 22 and 25 against experienced Democrats.

The House also trended in the GOP’s direction, a net gain for sure of 3. But more interesting than partisan results was the fact that incumbents and holdovers of all kinds had trouble. One GOP pickup was in House District 27 where incumbent Rick Farrar was annihilated. A GOP hold came in Senate District 11 where Republican state Rep. Pete Schneider similarly was blown away. In District 14 state Rep. Yvonne Dorsey could not put away a political newcomer, both Democrats. District 38 incumbent Sherri Smith Cheek barely held off another Republican who she outspent considerably. In House District 31, Republican state Rep. Don Trahan won by 33 votes over an independent.

This continues the trend noted over the past year in special elections – newcomers benefiting from trends in the voting public, and Republicans most often being those newcomers.