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Term limits to open door to GOP, conservative majority

Ever since qualifying for state elections ended last month, it’s been clear that Republican chances for taking control of the Louisiana Senate are slim, while the odds probably don’t favor a takeover of the House. As noted then, in a state where the Republican Party has come so far so fast it can be difficult recruiting quality candidates for whom experience in politics makes them more electable.

Still, after it all goes down by the middle of November, while the GOP may not achieve goals as lofty as once hoped, conservatives probably will in electing a more conservative legislature. This is, as mentioned last week, the direct result of term limits which have the effect of producing candidates succeeding term-limited members, even if of the same party, that are closer to the median voter. And the median voter in Louisiana, by perhaps every electoral indicator except the Legislature’s partisan composition, is more conservative ideologically than this body. Even party leaders both Republican and Democrat affirm that the realized and likely successful new Democrats will be, on the whole, more conservative.

Yet, “more conservative” is not the same as “conservative,” and besides the strengthening of the bench for the GOP which will occur relatively quickly over time, the biggest obstacle in front of the party in getting elected true conservatives, as opposed to those who are more liberal than conservative, is the state’s bizarre nonpartisan blanket primary system. By letting candidates regardless of party run together in a contest that can serve simultaneously as a general election, it does not penalize candidates or voters for aberrant behavior; i.e. calling yourselves one party label while behaving differently from it.

Taking a closed primary (only party registrants can vote in its primary) as an example, the electoral system now to be used in the state for federal elections, the first effect after its institution would be party-switching favoring Republicans as conservative Democrats find they no longer could choose preferred candidates in a primary (for those who didn’t already do this in response to the federal office change). In turn, this would encourage conservative Democrat candidates to switch affiliations because they would have to compete with a more liberal base to get a primary nomination, increasing their chances of primary defeat. It also would raise the chances of more conservative Republicans getting elected because they have a higher likelihood of beating switchers in their primary, rather than, as now, facing them in front of the entire electorate, and also becoming more likely to defeat more moderate Republicans in the process.

Of course, for all this to happen Louisiana law would have to change and that means the Democrats who still control the Legislature would have to hand the rope to Republicans, until the GOP can get majorities in both houses. But this process doesn’t have to be delayed necessarily. The change to closed primaries for federal offices occurred because of a Republican/black Democrat coalition. These Democrats understand that the current system reduces their clout within their party because they cannot influence elections and policy in districts where they do not have a majority. A closed primary system would “purify” the composition of each party, leaving some districts now with a plurality of white Democrats with more black than white Democrats. This means for Democrats blacks would control the nomination process and whites would have to bargain with them whereas now white Democrats in these districts can afford to ignore them.

Naturally, this could make Democrats a minority in the legislature, as these black or black-approved candidates would be less likely to win against a Republican nominee. But if the Legislature seems headed to this anyway because of term limits and larger overall trends, black politicians may think it’s better to have some influence within a minority party than little, and will support Republicans in this effort. And, in the end, it will have been term limits that would have started this process.

Term limits do not automatically favor conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, interests – it depends upon the underlying partisanship and ideological composition of the electorate. However, since Louisiana politics has featured a disconnect between state elected officials and the electorate that has favored Democrats for over two decades, eventually Republicans and conservatives will experience victory of the magnitude they hoped for this election cycle – and probably much sooner rather than later.

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