Top job to speak volumes about Edwards, Democrats
Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards and the rest of Louisiana’s Democrats face a decision the answer to which can influence whether his shock victory this fall signals any real life in the party as a relevant statewide political agent.
Despite a hard left agenda masked by moderate platitudes here and there, Edwards took advantage of fluky conditions to become the first state statewide-elected official to win as a Democrat since 2007. This glimmer of hope for a battered party will stay a one-off event unless Democrats act to capitalize by forsaking a hyper-liberal agenda in a center-right state and governing, as Edwards alleges he will, in the center.
And thus comes a big test for Edwards to practice what he preached. Recently candidate qualification occurred for each major party’s state central committee (and parish executive committee) seats. For Democrats, registered Democrats during the presidential preference primary election in March may select a male and female candidate in each state House district, although many will not have that chance as the majority of these spots were uncontested.
Perhaps most essentially, the state central committee selects the state party head, currently state Sen. Karen Peterson. Even as she has presided over an auspicious decline of party fortunes – during her term losing further in the Legislature and majorities on the Public Service Commission and Supreme Court, losing the only U.S. Senate seat the party had, experiencing increasing encroachment by Republicans in aggregate local offices held – she wishes to retain that position.
Theoretically, the decision lies in the hand of the DSCC. However, historically governors have had a large input into it, with both Democrat former Govs. Prisoner #03128-095
and Kathleen Blanco seeing allies serve. With that tradition less well inculcated among Republicans because of the rarity of their election as governor until the last two decades, such an occasion prompted perhaps the most heavy-handed insertion of gubernatorial preference into his party’s leadership when Republican former Gov. Mike Foster actively campaigned successfully for his preferences that included the running and supporting of a slate of candidates for the Republican State Central Committee.
Clearly, Edwards has customary resources behind a move to dump Carter on his part. Further, Carter allegedly showed little enthusiasm for Edwards’ candidacy initially, even apparently asking him to withdraw in order to get the most moderate Republican possible elected, so he owes her no fealty for his surprise win.
Most relevant to any decision whether Edwards ought to exert influence and how, Carter represents the far left of Democrats, even more liberal than Edwards. While Edwards has a lifetime score of around 30 on the Louisiana Legislature Log’s computation of legislator voting (0 denoting the maximally liberal/populist score), Carter earns all of a 23 over the same period. Her backers also present a portrait of the Who’s-Who’s of Louisiana’s political left.
If Edwards truly wants to govern in the middle and, more farsightedly, wants to win reelection and make Democrats able to win enough state offices so as to have frequent significant policy input opportunities, putting his stamp on the party leadership by ousting Carter would constitute a good first step. Having the poster child for the lunatic left in Louisiana having the major influence in party campaign decisions and issuing policy statements far out of the mainstream in no way can rebuild the Democrat brand in the state, as much as it may please national party overlords and liberal ideological purists.
Edwards should aim along the lines of somebody who has shown she can construct winning statewide campaigns, backed him early and unwaveringly, and seems to have plenty of time on her hands – Blanco, or someone approximating her. While by no means is she a moderate, she’s not the intemperate and raving Peterson either, and the ascension of a person like her would demonstrate that Edwards may not try to govern as a liberal wolf in conservative sheep’s clothing. Best of all for the minority party, this kind of chairwoman has the possibility of steering candidates and policy away from the extreme left, the proximate causes of the party’s failures during Peterson’s reign.
But Peterson’s status as party chairwoman also exposes the critical fault line within Louisiana Democrats at present: the party now has black majorities among its registered voters and in state elected officials. With 89 DSCC seats already assured to blacks after qualification, likely the DSCC will have a black majority after the election (and dozens of seats had no one qualify, so already among the districts with qualified candidates a black majority exists). This creates great impetus for Peterson’s, a black woman’s, retention and what black moderate Democrat out there possibly could topple her?
So Edwards, instead of trying to buck these odds, could defer on any contemplated insertion into the process. Meaning that, should Peterson reemerge as chairwoman, any of the following could be possible: (1) Edwards tried but could not put his own more moderate person in charge, (2) he did not try thinking he could not succeed that also shows impotence in moving the party to the center, or (3) he does not want to make the party more moderate and agrees with Peterson’s agenda for full-throated liberalism from Louisiana Democrats.
Regardless of the scenario, it all ends up with a party unable to reinvigorate itself by its hamstringing of itself to ideology. If Edwards has any serious intent to shape Democrats into a consistently viable force in state politics for the intermediate future, he has to fight and defeat Peterson on this. Otherwise, either he doesn’t really want that or he faces very long odds in resurrecting the party into a meaningful force anytime soon for any extended period of time.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:00