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GOP wins small, education reform big, in 2011 LA elections

If you’re a Republican reformer in Louisiana, the end of this state election cycle ought to elicit from you two cheers.

Reviewing results from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, it’s conceivable that results for reformers could have gone better, but not that much over what actually did transpire. With a sweep of the runoffs by reform-friendly candidates, including the most aggressive of them all, incumbent Chas Roemer in the Sixth District, over the most retrogressive reform opponent running, the eleven-member board, which includes three gubernatorial appointees, now has an overwhelming reform majority with eight solid votes. Two others can be counted upon to lend a hand from time to time, leaving just one isolated establishmentarian representative after having dispatched three such incumbents and one retired.

In the short run, this means it makes likely the hiring of Recovery School District chief John White as the permanent state superintendent.
In the long run, it could mean vastly beneficial policy changes, such as the abolishment of teacher tenure. This promises an exciting time ahead for those interested in improving the quality of the state’s lagging system.

However, in assessing legislative results, Republicans should feel a bit of relative disappointment. In the general election round, they could not knock off any tough, big-spending House Democrat incumbents. In the runoffs, they only converted some open-seat pickup opportunities, missing on some clear chances, and lost two incumbents, although one faced a tough challenge after being thrown into a redrawn majority-minority district. As a result, they barely inflated their majority in the House by a seat to 58, while Democrats retracted to 45, with two no-party members.

Notable GOP misfires came in the 10th, where Republicans gathered 62 percent of the Oct. 19 vote in a districts whose demographics suggest they should win, in the 22nd with 65 percent initially and similar demographics, and in the 39th, which also frustrated the party in 2007, again with demographics favorable to its cause and a strong candidate who lead in October but in this instance opposed by a Democrat connected to a long-time previous occupant. A third incumbent lost to another Republican.

In the Senate, already locked into a 24-15 split in favor of Republicans after the first round of balloting, Republicans could argue they gained slightly due to results from elections between black Democrats. This is because one of the most liberal members of the House running for a Senate spot now and one of the most liberal Senate incumbents lost, and the most conservative black Democrat in the Senate won. In the contest featuring the jumper, State Rep. Elton Aubert got defeated by businessman Troy Brown for Senate District 2, who does not seem likely to vote in a mode as liberal and populist as Aubert did.

The other two pitted old vs. newer members where political factions fought, ending both times to the advantage of conservatives and Republicans. State Sen. Elbert Guillory hung on to the District 24 against former longtime occupant Don Cravins, while former longtime holder Greg Tarver dumped the only incumbent in the body to lose this cycle, District 39 state Sen. Lydia Jackson, who had made her mark as one of the most ideologically-driven, partisan, and shrill opponents to the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration and its legislative allies.

In the final analysis, change gravitated slightly in favor of conservatism and reformers in the Legislature in this cycle, which may seem disappointing to Republicans after the previous 2007 set of elections and steady bleeding since then of Democrats transfused into Republicans. But in the specific area of education 2011 replicated, and then some, those headier days.

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