First, Troy Hebert got tabbed for state government, although his exit merely got expedited as he had said he would not run for reelection. But with the announcement by state Sen. Nick Gautreaux that he would head out to take over the Office of Motor Vehicles, this removes a Democrat who previously had given no indication he would resign or not run for reelection anytime soon.
Still, that Gautreaux was rumored to be a switch possibility gave a hint that another Democrat domino was to fall in the Senate which his departure now sets up a probable 19-all tie between the two major parties in the upper house early next year as long as the seat remains unfilled (if there are no more switches). This comes on the heels of the latest, most opportunistic switch that gave the GOP the lower house majority of 53 (versus 48 Democrats and four independents).
It does come off as dramatic and Machiavellian that Jindal might orchestrate the GOP takeover opportunity by dangling appointments in front of senators who not labeling themselves Republicans. Yet it’s a good strategy if that really is the intent. The appointees realize that if Jindal as expected wins reelection they have at least five years on the job if as expected Jindal finishes his second term. But even if a Democrat emerges as the next governor at some point they, as former Democrat senators, might be expected to keep their jobs. Even a GOP replacement for Jindal may not want them out. And, from Jindal’s perspective, the strategy works if the people elect Republicans to replace them.
In the case of Hebert’s 22nd District, that seems to be the case. When qualifying closed last week for that Jan. 22 contest, only Republicans and no-party individuals qualified. The two major ones from the GOP, state Rep. Simone Champagne who switched parties in June and state Rep. Fred Mills who switched only days ago, are the heavy favorites to win. (Whether whoever wins will have a successor from his or her district also with the GOP is another matter as both districts have a large plurality of white Democrats with almost equal representation of black Democrat and Republican registrants in Champagne’s 49th and a 3:2 black Democrat-Republican ratio in Mills’ 46th.)
And that also may be true for Gautreaux’s 26th District. Both are below 20 percent in Republican registration, and it could be argued that the 22nd actually would have been the more difficult of the two for the GOP to pick off given its proportion of black Democrats registered is about twice that of the 26th. But if the GOP can get the 22nd, there doesn’t seem to be any reason it couldn’t grab the 26th.
Some politicking could have resulted in trying to fill the 22nd upon Hebert’s resignation. Democrat and Sen. Pres. Joel Chaisson, realizing which way the winds blew, might have tried to hold up on that election to prevent his party’s majority from falling. But with another special election needed in the House, if he had thought this way too much momentum existed to piggyback the elections on cost and fairness considerations. Delaying the special election for the 26th seems even less possible since both scheduled special elections look likely to go to a runoff on Feb. 19, so if Chaisson very soon calls for the election on that date, qualifying for it can begin in early January.
And this means even if a runoff were necessary if the GOP scores here as well that by the time the special redistricting session launches the party would control both chambers with pluralities if not outright majorities, for the first time in the post-Reconstruction era. This will enable only greater protection of Republican gains through redistricting, and the 2011 election then may confirm that Chaisson will be the last Democrat to lead a chamber courtesy of his party’s majority for a long time. Regardless of whether Jindal primed the process, the historic transformation one way or the other seems about to be complete.