State Rep. Simone Champagne’s switch from Democrat to Republican by the numbers creates history, but does not change the reality that effectively the Louisiana House of Representatives has been run by the GOP since 2007.
The change in partisanship gives the House 51 Republicans and Democrats each, with three independents. It is the first time since 1878, when Reconstruction politics still hung over the state and allowed Republicans to exert electoral power beyond their numbers, that Democrats have not had a numerical plurality in the House. In the post-Reconstruction era (from 1880), until state Rep. Michael Jackson’s move to no party status in 2008, they always had an absolute majority and from 1900-80 never had less than about 90 percent of all seats. In fact, from 1900-64, there were no Republicans in the House.
But the one-party era of dominance is long gone and instead now the argument can be made that an era of Republican Party majority is ahead for the foreseeable future. Republican Jim Tucker became Speaker in 2008 because some conservative Democrats were willing to support him (he was elected unanimously, a sign that he had a majority going into the organizational session and therefore no one else was willing to oppose him). Further, the voting records of several Democrats show they are likely supporters of conservative agendas associated with the Republican Party; in 2009, 10 Democrats scored 75 or better on the Louisiana Legislature Log’s index where 100 is considered the maximum conservative/reform record (Champagne was one of them).
Also, while Jackson reliably votes with Democrats, no party state Rep. Dee Richard typically sides with Republicans (2009 voting score of 80) as does independent no party Speaker Pro-Tem Joel Robideaux (2009 score of 75, which helped him win that post). Not even counting Democrats, now Tucker pretty much has an absolute majority.
This makes the contrast to the Senate interesting, where Democrats still hold a healthy majority 22-16 (recently, retiring state Sen. Troy Hebert switched from them to no party). This is an artifact of two things, larger district sizes and term limits. Larger districts are more heterogeneous, making it easier for Democrat candidates to successfully establish crossover appeal, complemented by a third of its new members in 2007 elections having been term limited out of House seats so they were able to exploit the advantages of incumbency and the personalistic politics it creates to gloss over for some voters in that similar geographic area party affiliations that might be at odds with majority voter preferences.
The trends continue to point in the direction of Republican gains, although in the short term unlikely to be as dramatic as the now 17-seat pickup in the past decade, or an increase of 50 percent in just 10 years. The Senate may catch up as early as the next election cycle, where five of the six limited senators are Democrats, all whose House districts have been trending conservative.
This means Champagne’s change is more of an indicator of what already has happened than a signal that anything new and startling has developed in Louisiana politics.