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14.11.10

Changing wind blowing Alario to new, expedient label

Another day, another announcement for all intents and purposes that a Louisiana Democrat lawmaker is going to switch to the Republican Party. But this one smacks even more of seeking electoral advantage.

The proclamation by grizzled Legislature veteran state Sen. John Alario that he was almost certain to change registration before the year’s end seems even more expedient than the recent declaration by state Rep. Walker Hines that he was doing the same now. At least in Hines’ case his three-year career voting record seemed more amenable to a GOP affiliation all along, so the expediency comes from his having had to gain his election in a fairly Democrat-heavy, majority-black district. Having secured that election as a Democrat, his present defection is a signal to the GOP to help him out in redistricting and may help his chances in case he makes a run for Secretary of State next year.

But Alario’s move would come for almost the opposite reason. Until recently, he never has shown much affinity for a conservative/reform agenda, not the least because he served as House Speaker and as a committee leader in periods where the governors and Legislatures were comfortable with tax increases and big spending. His voting record, as by the Louisiana Legislature Log’s index, over the past seven years averaged about 49, where 100 is the maximum support in voting for conservative or reform positions on legislation.

However, this centrist score is skewed by his activities since entering the Senate after being term-limited in the House at the end of 2007. His last term there he averaged under 35, barely above the Democrat average of about 32 and well under the House overall average of around 46. Yet he seemed a changed man in the Senate, averaging about 67 in those three years with a stunning 90 in 2010.

It’s not that his district is pushing him in this direction; although it has been trending more conservatively, its large majority of Democrats and one-quarter black minority does not mean he could not get reelected as a Democrat. Unlike Hines’ case, redistricting really does not threaten dismembering his district, packing it with enough blacks to invite a challenge from a black Democrat, or with more Republicans to make that party able to knock him off: the Louisiana Family Forum plan, for example, adds some blacks but leaves it clearly with a white Democrat majority.

Rather, Alario, as he has done his entire career, is going whichever way the wind blows. When populist Democrats and/or Republicans-in-name-only called the shots in the Governor’s Mansion and Capitol, he was out in front of that as one of the biggest yes-men and facilitators of their tax-and-spend, grow government agenda. Times are different now, with conservative Republicans having captured the fourth floor, tightening their grip on the House, and may well gain a Senate majority for the first time since Reconstruction in the Senate by this time next year.

Alario acts however he needs to try to retain influence with whichever faction wields power. While he mouths the expected “Democrats have left me” line to explain it, any switch that does occur must be evaluated in light of this fact.

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