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Chickens coming home to roost on Democrat plantation

It’s good to see Louisiana’s media finally coming to understand something that has been reiterated in this space ever since the summer of 2006 – that the switch from blanket to closed primaries for federal contests in Louisiana ended the Democrat Party as we know it in the state, hastening its move into minority status. And it happened because a good portion of its members wanted it to work this way.

Republicans, of course, prefer their move into majority status, but two years ago they were outnumbered in the Legislature and did not control the Governor’s Mansion. In order to pass the legislation that would change primaries from a contest where all ran together regardless of partisan identification with the top two finishers squaring off again if none got an absolute majority, to having separate party primaries where nominees must win with a majority utilizing a runoff if necessary but then who meet against all candidates in a general election where plurality wins, they needed allies. They got them – black Democrat lawmakers.

Understand that until now in Louisiana, the last vestige of slavery has been among the Democrats. White politicians have acted as the masters because they could win general elections. This was because they could better position themselves as “moderates” even though many white candidates are almost if not as liberal as black candidates. Both the state and national levels of the part have recognized this for decades and therefore typically support only white candidates regardless of primary selection method. Thus, black Democrats for national elections by the party are treated as slaves – their only use is to dredge votes for white candidates and then the white Democrat winners, fearful of alienating more conservative white voters who might defect to future GOP candidates while taking for granted black voters would stay on the plantation regardless, would fail to support policy preferences of black leaders who manipulated much of the black vote.

But this dynamic could hold only so long as an escape route off the plantation was not offered to black leaders. The closed primary presented itself as this chance, in two ways. First, if the state Republicans would close their primaries totally – meaning independents could not participate in them – this would encourage conservative whites who had registered previously as Democrats to switch, draining this pool of support for white Democrat candidates in a closed primary, even if Democrats continued to allow independents to participate. (If the GOP followed that option too, they may hope to convert those independents, but then voters could register as independents and jump back and forth, largely recreating the dynamic under the blanket system.)

The GOP cooperated on this account by completely closing their primaries. Over time, perhaps in the next couple of years, as whites file out of the Democrats while blacks stay with the party for the most part, blacks will become the plurality if not majority in certain important constituencies. For example, at the beginning of the year, white Democrats outnumbered blacks by about 4,000 in the 6th Congressional District. In the next three months, spanning three instances of closed primary elections, whites lost about 1,000 registrants, blacks gained about 3,000 and, for the first time in history, black Democrats now outnumber whites (by nine).

This does not lead black politicians to primary wins, however, not yet. So the second, interim strategy for blacks to exit white Democrat servitude is to take advantage of the plurality-win standard. In some jurisdictions, demographics were such that under the blanket primary system the primary would produce a black Democrat as the top vote-getter – only to then have that candidate lose to a white Democrat or Republican in the general election runoff. But there is no runoff under these new rules, meaning blacks now can win in places where only white Democrats could previously.

In fact, in most jurisdictions like this, it will be Republicans rather than black Democrats who can win. However, that is not the central issue for black Democrat leaders. Their goal is not to increase the total number of Democrats elected, but to increase the number of black Democrats being elected – even if it means blacks running as independents in the general election until their voters control the party. So, note the community of interests between Republicans and black Democrats in establishing the closed primary: Republicans will have better chances to win more Congressional seats, blacks will have better chances to win more such seats, and white Democrats chances will be far less.

The transformation that has occurred courtesy of the closed primary for federal elections because it enabled the divide in the community of interests between white and black Democrats to favor the latter’s interests more by departing rather than by staying. In promoting their interests, as long as black Democrats under the blanket primary had the least electoral power of the three main entities in state politics (themselves, white Democrats, and Republicans), their best choice to get as much of their agenda as they could was sticking with white Democrat candidates. But now with this escape route provided by the closed primary, they don’t need to support white Democrat candidates to increase the chances of their agenda’s adoption, with the paramount concern of that agenda being to elect black candidates because supposedly they better represent presumed black interests.

Thus, when black and Republican lawmakers in the Legislature united in 2006 to pass the legislation enabling closed federal primaries, white Democrats could stop them only in one way – by having white Democrat former Gov. Kathleen Blanco veto the bill. But she didn’t, likely for two reasons: the sum of Republican and black Democrat legislators were close to veto-proof majorities in each chamber, and because there was some sentiment among even white Democrats to go in this direction because the courts were requiring later general election runoffs for Louisiana contests because of the blanket primary, meaning loss of seniority and other perquisites for Louisianans in Congress.

Regardless, the state’s Democrat Party forever is altered for national contests. Expect that within a few years, also as a consequence of redistricting, the only members of the U.S. House will be Republicans and black Democrats, and just one of the latter at a time. It also is logical that when Sen. Mary Landrieu leaves office, perhaps as early as the beginning of next year, few if any white Democrats will find their way to the U.S. Senate for the foreseeable future. These are the consequences of the chickens coming home to roost on the Louisiana Democrat plantation.


Anonymous said...

What about Cleo Fields vs. Mike Foster?

Also, how are the GOP's any different from the Dems regarding this issue? Are the facts any different for them?

Anonymous said...

Never mind, you're talking about federal elections. Or so I think. But you still have Cleo Fields and William Jefferson that ran for Congress and won. Didn't the Dems support these two?

How would blacks be any better off with the GOP? Have they ever recruited and/or supported a black candidate in a federal election?

This post looks like misinformation to me, but correct me if I am wrong.

Jeff Sadow said...

Yes I am.

Because they ran in majority black districts. But even Jefferson had to wait while Lindy Boggs served 10 years in a majority-black district.

The GOP has had many black candidates run in general elections, and a few winners. None in Louisiana, however.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but you're moving the target on me, Professor. Your article is about Louisiana democrats' practices keeping dem's in Louisiana on the plantation. Not nationally.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the Republican governor before this one actually OWNED the plantation.