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Key to conservative agenda success lies in LA Senate

While the chances of Louisiana Republicans to take a majority of seats in the House are less than even and almost nonexistent in the Senate, can the party end up governing Louisiana? Or, more generally, can a conservative majority take control of the state?

By now, it is almost certain that Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal will win a four-year residence in the Governor’s Mansion, and better than even he’ll accomplish that without a general election runoff. It’s also almost certain that the Republicans will make some gains in the House and minimal gains in the Senate. Still, they probably will end up a few seats short in the House, and would have about 40 percent of the seats in the Senate. So, on paper, at least the Legislature will remain in Democrat hands.

But consider the assertion of co-chairman of the Legislative Republican Caucus Jim Tucker, that his faction is taking the House “philosophically.” Term limits are doing what they theoretically should – bringing the aggregate of legislators closer to the views of the median voter which in this state have been more to the right than those of officials. Even Democrat Caucus Chairman Eric LaFleur admits his party intentionally fielded more moderate, even conservative, candidates.

This creates a situation potentially akin to that in 1980, when conservative Republican Pres. Ronald Reagan won the White House. Even though he faced a House firmly controlled by Democrats, enough of them were conservative on taxing and spending issues that he got through some monumental legislation of a conservative kind, such as large tax cuts. A Gov. Jindal likely has the same ability to use the powers, both formal and informal, of his office to appeal to these more conservative Democrats to enact much of his conservative, reform agenda.

However, the comparison breaks down when viewing the Senate. Reagan actually had a Republican majority to work with there, while Jindal might be down about 7 seats of 39. Nonetheless, with enough more moderate Democrat senators, Jindal might have a chance to fashion majorities there as well.

If this is what would have to transpire for Jindal to succeed, reviewing the last three years worth of scores on the ideology/reform index used in my Louisiana Legislature Log reveals Jindal might have a rough go of it. The index is scaled so that a score of 0 represents a perfect liberal/populist voting record, while 100 represents a perfect conservative/reformist voting record.

In 2005, the Senate was 6 points more liberal/populist with the gap between the typical Democrat and Republican was 21. In 2006, the Senate overall was slightly more liberal/populist but the difference between party averages narrowed to 14. In 2007, the gap opened considerably to 47 even as the Senate scored slightly more conservative/reformist than the House.

So unless the GOP does better than anticipated in the Senate and/or more conservative Democrat senators get elected, the Senate could turn into the graveyard of reform for Jindal. This is because the set of fairly extremist senators now present for Democrats would be unlikely to support many conservative initiatives. Further complicating matters is how many liberal Republican senators may get elected – for example, liberal Sherri Smith Cheek looks likely to be reelected, and with the term-limitation of perhaps the most conservative Sen. Max Malone it’s possible that liberal current state Rep. Billy Montgomery could replace him.

This means that the focus of attention over the next five weeks really should not be so much on the House, but the Senate, to see if ideas sponsored by the GOP will make much headway in Louisiana over the next four years.


Anonymous said...

Why do you say that Sen. Cheek is liberal? She seems to be a typical moderate pro-life Republican. Maybe not conservative enough for Desoto parish, but more than enough for South Caddo.


Jeff Sadow said...

Click on the links to the voting records in the posting and you'll see what I mean. For more information, you can search by her name the entire blog site as on several occassions I have written in some detail about some of her (and others') votes.