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Misimpression may have impacted big House vote

Give state Rep. Hunter Greene credit – once he gets incorrect information in his head, he’s not willing to let it go and insists on spreading it as Gospel, perhaps leading House members to decide an important matter on the basis of misimpression.

During the debate on his HB 292, which would reinstitute a blanket primary system for Congressional elections as was past practice and currently is done for state and local offices, on three occasions Greene asserted that “19 or 20” states had an “open” primary, although he also said there were “hybrid” systems that confused the count. That information was relevant because a point of contention against the bill was it would cause the possibility of Members of Congress to face general elections after the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (as by federal law) which would put newcomers from Louisiana behind in terms of perquisites such as committee seats parceled out by the parties.

Greene continuously left the impression that “19 or 20” states also used the same system which meant they would suffer the same potential penalty, meaning the relative loss to Louisiana Members was minimized since so many other states’ Members could suffer similarly. In fact, because Greene did not call what he was proposing by its correct name, a blanket primary, legislators did not know that no other state has this electoral system. An elegant explanation of the difference is from footnote 1 of the U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion concerning a challenge to the only system close to Louisiana’s, Washington:

The term “blanket primary” refers to a system in which “any person, regardless of party affiliation, may vote for a party’s nominee.” California Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U. S. 567, 576, n. 6 (2000). A blanket primary is distinct from an “open primary,” in which a person may vote for any party’s nominees, but must choose among that party’s nominees for all offices … and the more traditional “closed primary” in which “only persons who are members of the political party . . . can vote on its nominee.”

The “19 or 20” states to which Greene refers do not have the kind of same system he is proposing for Louisiana. The correct answer he should have given when asked how many states had a similar system to Louisiana’s was “one,” Washington, and it manages to avoid scheduling a general election after the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November because it essentially automatically permits more than one candidate to appear on that ballot on that day (and even this is still subject to litigation scheduled to be heard this fall). The open primary states (the exact figure is 22), because they have open rather than blanket primaries, do not have to have a general election after the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November because their systems, unlike Greene’s proposal, comport to federal law on this account. In fact, the only state that currently may have a general election after that date is Georgia, an open primary state, because it requires any general election winner to have an absolute majority of the vote and therefore may invite a runoff.

And how do I know Greene knows the difference? Because I told him, in a series of notes sent back and forth after the committee hearing on the bill. Yet the way he presented the bill on the floor continued to imply the system he proposes is commonly used throughout the country. That simply is not true; it is the only of its kind.

Most worrisome is whether a major reason why the bill advanced, as it did comfortably, was because legislators labored under that misimpression. Perhaps some who voted for it if they knew for a fact that Louisiana would be one of only two states that could have later elections might have voted against it. If enough members did have a misimpression, it could have made a difference in the bill’s passage.

Hopefully, when the bill reaches Senate committee and potentially floor deliberation, this point will be brought out by senators. Bill supporters cannot be allowed to imply that the proposed system is like “19 or 20” others because federal law causes very different consequences between this and every other state electoral system in the country in terms of when elections must be held and the possible consequences Louisiana must suffer in its representation in Washington that no other state (except perhaps Georgia, with its different system) faces.

The question is not so much whether the bill is good public policy, but whether policy-makers will allow themselves to decide its fate without seeking accurate information about it. Surely Louisiana citizens wish their elected representatives to make decisions on the basis of full and factual information fairly presented.


Louisiana's Libertarian said...

It is a shame to see our politicians twisting the truth and outright lying to pass bills into law.

Unfortunately, it is merely business as usual in Baton Rouge.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that half the House would vote on something this important without more than "I heard it's true from the guy proposing this bill, so it must be true...." But you did your part. Keep up the good work.