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LA GOP success may moot party governance controversy

The Louisiana Republican State Central Committee met yesterday. Talk may have focused on the fact that only 16 of 230 vacancies occurred when qualification for seats on this body for the next term ended the day before, two fewer than for the 2008 election and certainly better than the 38 of 210 vacancies for their Democrat counterparts, demonstrating the former’s ascendancy and the latter’s decline. But by qualification for the 2016 election, because of this ascendancy Republicans might be like Democrats and thereby sidestep a controversy about their districts that nearly derailed this election.

Last month, longtime RSCC member (and the man holding the singular distinction of losing to David Duke for elective office) John Treen sued to prevent the election. He contended that the official schedule for submitting boundaries of districts had not been followed, and therefore the default according to R.S. 18:443.2 of a member per legislative district would have to be followed. While he argued on legal grounds, he indicated the request also would have the effect of decreasing representation on the SCC from more ideologically social conservative elements.

However, the federal judiciary disagreed, in the form of (interestingly, the former head of state Democrats) District Judge James Brady, and elections and qualification for these districts proceeded as the state party had planned.
For his trouble, Treen redrew a 2008 opponent, Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, which may end his tenure, as typically when an elected official runs against someone who isn’t for these spots, historically that official wins (Skrmetta would be elected to the PSC months after his attempt for the committee seat, which Treen won with 54 percent of 634 votes cast).

But the question of the party drawing its own districts may become moot by the next election cycle. The operative statute giving the party essentially free rein in drawing districts, so long as they are contained within state House of Representatives’ districts, applies only to recognized parties with less than 30 percent of the state’s registered voters. Otherwise, as Democrats currently must follow, R.S. 18:441.1 applies that mandates one female and one male representative from each of the 105 House districts (which has the tendency to increase seats with no qualifiers).

At a little under 27 percent after qualification for state contests this fall, the GOP continued to operate under the same statute as it has. But considering in 2007 Republicans comprised only 24 and two-thirds percent, and in 2003 a bit over 21 and a half percent, the same growth rate could push the party above the 30 percent mark. Ironically, this may achieve what Treen wanted, as presently the party’s ability to draw more boundaries within districts where there are more Republicans will get negated under the other statute.

So perhaps this will be the last cycle where this controversy occurs. Not that this doesn’t mean plenty of drama may remain; for example, while many seats are unopposed, both of the state GOP’s national committee members face challengers, with one, Ruth Ulrich, squaring off against former Rep. John Cooksey in perhaps the highest profile contest of all. A privilege of serving on the Republican National Committee means automatic delegate status in picking a Republican presidential nominee during a contentious primary season this spring, and no doubt plenty of other lower profile but equally vigorous skirmishes will occur for both parties on Mar. 24.

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