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13.11.10

While expedient, Hines switch also better fits his record

The fact now has been ratified by the numbers: with the party switch of state Rep. Walker Hines from Democrat to Republican, effective control by Republicans of the Louisiana House of Representatives becomes official control. But the story is less about the evolution of a legislator that it is his concern over his political future.

Hines’ move brings the GOP total to 51 in the lower chamber, compared to 50 Democrats and four independents – although two of them reliably vote with Republicans and a third somewhat less often. As heard often in these cases, Hines cites certain things indicating the direction of the Democrats as reason for his change in affiliation.

That may be true, but two political considerations that certainly contributed he doesn’t mention. One, with redistricting coming up and Republicans looking likely to control the process, Hines wanted to shore up his odds that in the coming loss of seats for Orleans Parish he doesn’t get hung out to dry with a move of more black residents into his district, increasing the odds that a black Democrat could successfully challenge him. By joining the majority, he makes it more likely Republicans in the process will want to preserve his district with a white majority.

Also, two, Hines seems to have his eyes set on the Secretary of State’s office next year. As it is becoming increasingly apparent that in statewide contests Democrats are at a distinct disadvantage, running as a Republican would improve his chances of winning in all likelihood should he run. Some wonder whether this is not another version of the “Manchurian” candidacy witnessed in the recent special election for the lieutenant governor’s office where the politically untested daughter of a Democrat political activist and large donor ran as a blank slate mouthing some conservative themes, as a backdoor means by which a liberal can try to win statewide office.

This evidence suggests while Hines’ shift does smack of political expediency, he can claim genuinely that he is more at home with the GOP. When he ran in 2007, fresh out of college, as a Democrat he was criticized by student Democrats as being too squishy about their boilerplate liberalism and did not draw their endorsement for his run. Despite that, he caught a break when fellow Democrat and considered liberal front-runner Una Anderson right before the election was accused of allegedly being involved in a bribery scheme. After his successful election, nothing more was heard about Anderson in this matter.

In his first session, Hines charged ahead with playbook liberal legislation such as abolishing the death penalty, wasting money on making government buildings “green,” and government intervention into the marketplace for mortgage lending, plus he tried to sabotage tax cutting. But he also introduced some good reform measures and his reform instincts led him to score a 70 (where 100 is the most conservative/reform) on the Louisiana Legislature Log’s scorecard. In his second session, while his score dropped to 60 and he opposed some good conservative reform, he only introduced one objectionable bill which would have needlessly spent money on a fruitless effort to reduce homelessness.

This past session marked a significant movement in both his legislative agenda and voting record. With bills to force more efficiency in spending of health care dollars and other reform measures (one of which would become one of his first bills to make it to law), his only real misstep came in offering up something akin to the constitutional amendment that passed a couple of weeks ago which devalues property rights too much, a temptation shared by Orleans delegation regardless of ideology. And he ended up among the highest on the scorecard with a 95. (Hines throughout his legislative career also has been a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the considered “conservative” organization of state legislators.)

So it could be argued that the real political expediency for Hines came when he first ran as a Democrat (representatives of this label averaged a 44 over the last three years on the scorecard; note that Hines’ average of 75 is much higher than the average of about 58 for outgoing Republican Secretary of State Jay Dardenne over his last three years in the state Senate), even as his voting record trended in the opposite direction. This may have been needed with a district of demographics favoring Democrats. So despite the fact that his father is a political activist and he’s young, Hines (who once indicated Republican activists had asked him about switching from the beginning of his attempt for office) can claim legitimately it is not only for political expediency that he made the switch.

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