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Latest GOP win suggests permanent LA Democrat minority

The historic nature of the outcome of the Louisiana Senate District 26 special election is not so much in that it gives the Republican Party a majority in both chambers of the Legislature in 135 years, but that it suggests that Democrats may have become a permanent minority in the state.

Republican State Rep. Jonathan Perry defeated Democrat Vermillion Police Juror Nathan Granger in this contest triggered by the resignation of the former holder of the seat, Democrat Nick Gautreaux. Despite the fact Granger poured a considerable sum of money into the race (having spent 10 days out from the election over $172,000, and had lent himself $217,000), had national Democrat operatives assisting him, and ran about as far to the right ideologically as a Democrat can in this day and age, it was not enough to hold it for the party.

Perry has voted as one of the most reform/conservative members of the House (possessing a Louisiana Legislature Log reform/ideology index score for the past three years of close to 80), so, in other words, if there was any seat with demographics mirrored those seen at the state level that the Democrats could win short of a Republican opponent tarnished by scandal, this was the one.


Commitment may give Chaisson more post-Senate options

Perhaps not coincidentally, state Rep. Walker Hines the day after annual reports were due for candidate’s campaign finance confirmed he would run for secretary of state, maybe suggesting the future direction of another, much higher profile sitting politician.

Hines, who recently switched to the Republican Party, challenges unelected incumbent Tom Schedler, calling himself a “reform candidate.” However, he faces an uphill battle because, prior to assuming the helm at State, Schedler had been a term-limited member of the Senate with good government credentials of his own. As such, his more extensive fundraising contacts and long time association with GOP not only limits support that Hines might get, but also (even though he reported raising no money in 2010) his potential to raise funds is much better than Hines’, who reported $21,390 bankrolled for his campaign at the end of 2010.

Simply, Schedler doesn’t leave Hines much financial or political oxygen for this contest, but, if following political ambition, Hines needed somewhere to go after conclusion of his term in the House as his reelection chances became dimmer, if after reapportionment he even would have much a district anything close to what he has at present. But perhaps his attempt does open up room for a more prominent legislator to serve on after term limits.

Sen. Pres. Joel Chaisson’s report shows an impressive haul of over $100,000 but even more spent in 2010, largely doled out to a number of charitable causes, fellow legislators (mostly Democrats but a couple in the GOP), and Democrat party organizations of which he is one. Despite his term-limitation, he has nearly $180,000 stashed away for “a statewide office.” In other words, this indicates he is as likely to run for higher office as to retire in the short term from politics.

Might secretary of state be his target in 2011? Heads up against Schedler, he would appear to be an underdog, given that Schedler is as experienced a politician as he and has the Republican label and reform reputation going for him, plus incumbency even if unelected. But throw Hines into the mix to divide the GOP vote and his chances improve. Then get another identified liberal into the race, like former lieutenant governor candidate Caroline Fayard and he might be better off still more.

The calculus might go as follows: Chaisson can make himself appear centrist in relation to Fayard, whose appeal during her first run was she was a reformist outsider and nonpolitician. But as a result of her try last year, the bloom came off her rose: trying again so quickly makes it hard to claim you’re not a politician, and during that campaign plenty of publicity called into question whether her issue preferences were much farther to the left than she admitted and whether unethical means were being used to buy, in essence, her way into office. This might allow him to get moderate votes he otherwise couldn’t get, still leaving him more than the liberal who would back Fayard. Hines also might be able to position himself more to the center and take votes from Schedler by the same dynamic. If Chaisson can get the 27-year-old Hines into a runoff, then he uses his superior contacts, fundraising, and experience to win.

Absent that, if Chaisson wished to extend his elected shelf life, his logical target is attorney general, having been held by Democrats until just weeks ago when incumbent Buddy Caldwell switched to the GOP. That avoids the base-splitting problem of the secretary of state’s race (all four potential and actual candidates mentioned here being from the southeast part of the state) and Chaisson by profession is a trial lawyer, but it also creates additional problems beside the obvious that he would be taking on an incumbent that is not unpopular. Caldwell won last time despite his base being in a relatively unpopulated part of the state, was a district attorney, has been intending reelection (in part explaining the switch) with the funds (some $466,000) to back it, and whatever warts he may have, so does Chaisson (such as both pushing for contingency fee contracts to be let out by the state).

So maybe Chaisson will ride off into the sunset, at least for now. But Hines’ announcement may have given him more options to keep his elected career going uninterrupted.


Blueprint must go beyond echoing, embrace publicizing

As it did four years ago, Blueprint Louisiana has released a list of recommended public policy for the state to pursue over the next few years. However, should it wish to exercise influence in favor of these, it has to go beyond echoing advocacy.

The group came together in advance of the 2007 state elections with the goal of creating an agenda to which candidates for office could commit, thereby giving them a kind of seal of approval from prominent members of communities statewide. A number of candidates sought the imprimatur by pledging to follow the agenda, names dutifully noted by the group through publicity measures largely based upon its website.

However, Gov. Bobby Jindal and most other statewide candidates did not sign on, even as Jindal’s stated policy preferences of those of some others were pretty close to the group’s. Whether he and others who seemed pretty compatible with it did not because they felt they didn’t need such assistance to win their races and/or they did not want to tie themselves to the group and its agenda in an inflexible way, this snubbing subsequently revealed a flaw in the group’s execution.


Return of blanket primary retards LA's political maturity

Last week the U.S. Department of Justice gave thumbs up to the state for its change away from a closed primary system, where candidates vie for a party nomination that parties can limit only to those registered under their labels, for federal congressional elections, returning to the blanket primary system, where all candidates regardless of label run together, employed for state and local contests. Too bad the state gets thumbs down for reverting back in the first place as it perpetuates ills of Louisiana government and the politics it exports to Washington.

For decades, even centuries, complaints have arisen about Louisiana politicians as less accountable than they should be. Particularly, the populist heritage of the state creates, and in turn is created by, a system of personalistic politics where electoral merit get judged not by how well government pursues policies that benefit the state as a whole or in apportioning rewards and costs to citizens on an anonymous, generic basis, but instead on how well a politician divides spoils from taxpayers and in performing service to allied supplicants. Thus, the populist persuasion, rather than emphasizing minimal government involvement to allow maximal non-interference in individuals’ lives, conceives of government built around key individuals who become mini-despots in their abilities to bestow and withhold favored treatment.

In recent decades, the blanket primary system has contributed to this system’s extension.


Confusion distracts from stricter, merit-based TOPS

Louisiana legislators finally show signs of grasping the need for reforming Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars grants, but conceptual confusion about the purpose of these prevents them from offering the proper policy solution – a situation they caused themselves.

The state took over the original program, founded when the late Patrick Taylor about a quarter century promised junior high students at a school serving a poor New Orleans neighborhood he would pay for their college tuition if they could get admitted into a university with a B average on a college preparatory curricula, on the basis that it was a needs-based program. Then, about a decade after that pledge, the Legislature decided to make it a scholarship-like program by removing any needs test. As a result, the cost has grown substantially to an estimated $135 million a year.

But the error made was that it never was a true scholarship program.


Landry complaining risks bright political future

Rep. Jeff Landry may not have gotten the memorandum from the GOP, so I’ll reiterate from the outside: when it comes to redistricting, give it your best shot to get a district you can win, but don’t make a spectacle of yourself. That Landry to date hasn’t followed that script might jeopardize a promising political career.

The other five Louisiana Republicans in the House of Representatives have forged a gentlemen’s agreement that the post-2010 Census map of the state, dictating a loss of a district due to slow population growth statewide, should end up as a slight extension of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth, a slight retrenchment of the First, a major extension of the Second, and the merging of the Third and Seventh. This makes Rep. Charles Boustany of the Seventh the odd man out among reelected members in having to face Landry of the Third.

Landry protests this arrangement that the others will press on the state Legislature that must perform this remapping.