Once again, the fact that elections have consequences must be searing itself in the minds of the many formerly comfortable elites invested in the way elementary and secondary education has been – poorly – delivered in Louisiana. Because had things gone a little bit differently a few months ago, these holders of power and privilege would continue to rest easy in a world without HB 974 or HB 976.
These bills, prepared to be signed into law by their most powerful backer Gov. Bobby Jindal, induce choice and competition into the archaic government monopoly system of education and place greater emphasis on merit and demonstrated ability in personnel decisions, passed the state Senate with some margin for error, 23-16 and 24-15, respectively, and would be approved by the House (which had previously approved almost identical version) at roughly the same level of support. But, focusing on the latter, had a few Senate elections gone the other way last fall, this may never have happened.
The final margin meant a swing of five votes would have defeated the measure. And when reviewing some close contests in 2011, it’s easy to see where swapping a thousand or less votes in a district would have put into office people unlikely to vote for this bill.
In District 2, political newcomer Troy Brown defeated former state Rep. Elton Aubert by 1,300 or so votes, who was trying to parlay redistricting into a move to the Senate. In his House term, the Louisiana Legislature Log index revealed Aubert to be one of the most liberal/populist members of the House in that time span. He also in 2008 voted against the bill that set up the pilot program of scholarship vouchers that the current reform efforts will expand statewide. Brown voted for these bills.
In District 17, two Democrats ran, but one, the party’s East Feliciana Executive Committee Chairman Larry Thomas, was swamped by the other, Rick Ward. Besides being a party official, Thomas also had worked as a legislative assistant for former state Sen. Rob Marionneaux, term-limited out of that district, who had never been friendly to the idea of vouchers and voted against that 2008 bill, making Thomas an unlikely supporter.
In District 37, while former state Rep. Jane Smith was considered a Jindal loyalist, as a former school superintendent she always carried water for the educational establishment. She had voted in favor of the 2008 bill, but in 2005 she voted against another similar one that would have created a more widespread program. Her victorious opponent by a couple of thousand votes for this spot, Barrow Peacock, in and out of government has been an ardent supporter of these kinds of reforms.
In District 39, Lydia Jackson, also one of the most liberal/populist members of the Senate during her two terms according to the Louisiana Legislature Log, had opposed almost everything associated with Jindal, including that 2008 vote. In part, that’s why Greg Tarver regained his seat from her last November by almost 900 votes.
Then, there’s the special case of District 3, whose senator J.-P. Morrell voted against HB 974 but for HB 976. Despite his past wariness about alternatives to the one-size-fits-all model, he has demonstrated more acceptance of them than did his opponent, former state Sen. Cynthia Willard-Lewis, whose short recent stint in the Senate (they were thrown into the same district last election courtesy of reapportionment) featured a bill by her to scale back use of charter schools by transferring those whose charter status improved them above failure back into the Orleans Parish School District where they could be made back into traditional schools. And in her recent campaign for an at-large seat on the New Orleans City Council, she said she disagreed with a local reform group’s position on support of autonomous charter schools. He defeated her by somewhat over a thousand votes.
Had the four closer elections gone the other way, there would have been no margin to spare to pass HB 976. Had not local Republican forces coalesced around Democrat Ward to decisively defeat pro-Marionneaux forces, where the ex-senator at one time was seen as the best establishment hope to defeat Jindal for reelection, the measure loses. Remarkably, showing the large appeal of the philosophy behind these reforms to the voting public, it was three contests between black Democrats, one between white Democrats, and one between white Republicans that made the difference – not a single inter-party contest proved crucial to the winning margin, although the results of a few of the closer ones, all going in the favor of Democrats, prevented it from being larger.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:40