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Term limits, displacement effects among hot political topics

Most readers were unfortunate enough not to be able to attend the two panels at the Southern Political Science Association meeting in New Orleans dealing specifically with Louisiana politics on Saturday, one of which being the venue at which I presented my paper concerning implications of term limits on legislators and voter displacement on state politics.

So, as a public service, here I will sum up some of the more interesting conclusions drawn based on discussion proceeding from the paper and by other roundtable participants – political science professors Albert Samuels of Southern, Henry Sirgo of McNeese State, Joshua Stockley of Nicholls State, and myself

1. In my study, it must be reemphasized that even if the GOP is much better off as a result of term limits and displacement (which gives the party great advantage in 13 of 16 legislative seats made competitive by terms limits, and removed around 49,000 net potential Democrat voters from the state, respectively), this represents only potential gains where the party has to get the work done in order to realize such gains. Poor campaigning or inferior candidates will not.

2. At the same time, national trends are not likely to affect campaigning for state office because, with Louisiana having elections separate from any federal elections, there won’t be a much tying the two together. Statewide trends, by contrast, may well affect this. For example, if the outcome of the second special session causes blame to be heaped disproportionately on one party, that would drag on electoral competitiveness of all that party’s candidates.

3. Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco is in big trouble and by extension Democrat hopes for winning the state’s top office are as well. The Democrats would be better off with a candidate such as former U.S. House member Chris John but that current Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal would remain the most formidable candidate in the field. Democrat U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon probably would not be interested if Blanco bowed out. If Blanco persists in running, with her and Democrat Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell in the field, no other competitive Democrat would likely see any chance of making the general election runoff and thus not run, making Democrat chances of winning very slim.

4. Democrats also should be worried about the displacement of voters for other statewide offices, particularly for the seat held Sen. Mary Landrieu coming up for grabs in 2008. While these elections are almost a year or two away, demographic changes are not favoring the party at the statewide level.

5. By contrast, it would be a mistake to impute that difficulties Democrats are having statewide will translate into lower-level offices. For example, while much attention has been given to big Democrat displacement from Orleans Parish, proportionally as much Republican voter displacement has occurred in St. Bernard Parish. As another indicator, my study showed that while the GOP could pick up 10 House seats from term limits, by contrast as many Republican districts as Democrat ones, two each, are endangered by term limits in the Senate – both GOP-held seats being in the strongest Democrat area outside of the state, Melancon’s stronghold of Acadiana to the Delta.

6. Redistricting in 2011 as a result of the national census almost certainly will cost Louisiana a seat in the House. Whether it will be a majority-black seat preserved around New Orleans because of the nascent remaining legislative strength in the area and reluctance not to have one majority-black district in the state, or because of the historical antipathy of southeastern-most Louisiana to Orleans that will preserve something akin to Melancon’s Third District instead, it looks likely that the Democrats will be the losers as all Republican seats will be preserved – but much depends upon the results of the 2007 state elections in this regard.

That’s our best guesses for four-plus years out. We’ll just have to see what happens.

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