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Skepticism warranted that LA Democrats change

When this space recently discussed the future of Louisiana’s Democrats and considered whether Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards would involve himself to moderate the party, it seems some activists had read the piece and/or had directed their thinking in that direction already. But even if the less-liberal wing of the party succeeded in taking control, whether its adherents could push the party into an electable position remains highly questionable.

A move does seem afoot to dump later this year state Sen. Karen Peterson, one of the few legislators more to the political left than Edwards, as party chairwoman. That decision will occur after the March elections of the state central committee. However, as over half of those qualifying ended up unopposed, a good picture of whether that may happen already has emerged.

With 106 votes needed for a majority to elect an officer (although theoretically because of the simple majority quorum requirement as few as 56 could do the trick) even though Peterson, a black woman, represents the far left of the political spectrum, elements wishing to moderate the party may find that difficult, perhaps impossible, to do. Already with certainty blacks will occupy 90 seats (if state Rep. Stephen Ortego withdraws as he has indicated from his contest), 23 others could win seats of which 9, given the candidates running and district demographics, should win, and an additional one likely should get appointed (if no candidates run for a seat, the central committee may appoint someone and likely from majority-black districts it would tab a black), making almost certainly a minimum of 100 votes backing Peterson (and because officer elections almost certainly will occur before filling vacancies, assuming everyone shows up a quorum she will need only 91, meaning she should have the votes already for reelection).

Few if any blacks would abandon Peterson not so much because almost all of them agree with her on almost every issue, but because blacks are the majority racial group among registered Democrats in Louisiana, they are the majority of state elected Democrats, and they feel with these kinds of numbers they should have control of the party – especially as the majority of statewide and federal office candidates among Democrats supported by big-money party donors and organizations continue are whites. Peterson also has the backing of many of the most powerful party elites – mostly black, all liberal, Thus, any attempt to wrest party control into the hands of a moderate likely is doomed to failure, even if less liberal forces found an acceptable black candidate to oppose her.

We won’t need to wait for a meeting after the election in the spring to confirm this; two DCC contests should tell us all we need to know. In the District 61 “A” race (the party’s constitution requires equal gender representation – although with the party’s continuing embrace of alternative “genders,” maybe they’ll change that in the future – with the “A” contests for females), state Rep.-elect Denise Marcelle, black and very liberal, will square off against Edwards’ communications director and white Mary-Patricia Wray. The District 83 “B” race features a rematch of the state House seat of last year, white incumbent and narrow winner state Rep. Robert Billiot against black Kyle Green in this majority-black district. The white candidates must win or you can write off any chance that electoral tides will push enough non-black, non-liberals into DCC seats to deny Peterson reelection.

But what if the improbable happened and a less liberal DCC emerged with leadership to match? In order to have a hope of gaining majority status, it still would have to negotiate a slide to the center of such magnitude as to appear, at this time, implausible.

For example, in the area of social issues, poorly-reasoned Supreme Court decisions have, for now pending more incisive judicial reappraisal in the future, taken off the table the truly conservative issue preferences concerning abortion and marriage – allowing states to offer protection to all life whether born and to decide whether to define marriage outside of its traditional arrangement, respectively. Absent these, the closest conservative approaches now would have the state legislate its abortion laws to the most restrictive requirements given the Court’s arbitrary limits and on marriage definition to pass laws protecting religious freedom by denying government retaliation against individuals for actions stemming from religious exercise concerning marriage.

A number of elected Democrats do favor the most possible conservative preference on abortion, even as they seem more reluctant to ensure safety in its performance. But’s that as close as they come, and party leaders almost unanimously argue for abortion on demand and favor moves of abortion mills to expand and to avoid safety regulations. And when legislation and an executive order issued by Gov. Bobby Jindal strove in minimal fashion to protect people from government interference into their religious practices involving the definition of marriage, few Democrats would speak up in support even of this compromise.

Or, reviewing fiscal issues, a truly conservative approach would continue right-sizing Louisiana’s bloated government while engaging in tax reform to flatten if not zero out income tax rates. Obviously, Democrats would not go this far, but at least they could reach for the center by addressing the state’s current budgetary shortfalls through getting rid of only the unproductive tax exceptions and cutting spending to make up the remainder. Instead, they not only seem pledged to maintain current spending levels, but also Edwards talks of increasing expenditures by hundreds of millions of dollars, which would inevitably lead to income tax hikes in a progressive way.

In short, the great policy distance from the typical Louisiana Democrat officeholder’s or activist’s issue attitudes from the ideological center would entail a major repositioning of the party’s program, a move so lengthy as to strain credulity that it would undergo this. If on the traditional seven-point scale used by social scientists to measure ideological self-identification these Democrat elites score one, the most liberal endpoint, while the electorate resides at between five and six, a move to two scarcely would make a difference in electoral outcomes. They must start articulating an agenda at least at four, and given who they are and what they say that seems hardly credible for this evolution to take place any time soon.

So even a triumphant effort by more moderate forces to capture party leadership would do little to encourage formation of a more electable set of Democrat candidates, because they start from such an extremity, with “moderate” very relatively defined by that remote endpoint. In the final analysis, in the near future expect little change within the party and just as little success in its winning enough elections to govern Louisiana.

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