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Special elections bellwether for partisan change

A slew of upcoming state House of Representatives special elections could confirm the tightening grip conservatives have on the Louisiana Legislature.

In a matter of days voters can head to polls in seven districts: the 12th vacated by Republican Rob Shadoin, the 17th left by Democrat Marcus Hunter, the 18th cut loose by Democrat Major Thibaut, the 26th set aside by Democrat Jeff Hall, the 27th departed from by Republican Chris Hazel, the 47th traded in by GOP state Sen. Bob Hensgens, and the 62nd jettisoned by Republican Kenny Havard.

With two exceptions, one party has a significant advantage in each. Democrats handily outnumber Republicans in the majority-black 17th and 26th Districts, while Republicans have significant edges over Democrats in the 12th and 27th. Additionally, the 46th District gave GOP Pres. Donald Trump about 80 percent of their votes in 2016. Of these, only the 27th will feature a major party tussle.

Thus, only the 18th and 62nd look competitive, although the latter less so. Even though it has a black registration of over 30 percent, the district still gave Trump over 55 percent of the vote, and Republicans unified over one candidate while Democrats fragmented among three. It well may produce the GOP’s Police Juror Dennis Aucoin and black Democrat Tarries Greenup in a runoff, particularly since Greenup is the husband of former Secretary of State candidate Gwen Collins-Greenup who made it to the runoff in her contest. But, emulating the statewide race, Aucoin should come out the winner under these electoral dynamics.

Therefore, the 18th offers the only real chance for a party takeover, by Republicans. Democrats there outnumber Republicans by over two-to-one, but Trump did manage to pull around 55 percent of the vote in the district. Again, only one black Democrat is running with three other white Democrats challenging, but two Republicans running make the potential runoff picture murkier than in the 18th, especially as one of the Republicans is black.

Regardless, altogether it’s much likelier than Republicans will gain a seat than lose one in fewer than three weeks. That would push their House advantage going into 2019 regular elections to 64 of 105.

Yet more significantly, who gave up their seats early and why shows the GOP continues in ascendancy. While Hensgens won a special election for the upper chamber, Shadoin resigned to take a job in the Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards Administration, Hazel for a judgeship, and Havard as parish president. All three were among the least loyal Republicans in the House, having defected to support the liberal Edwards on major issues now and then. In sum, their replacements likely will hew more faithfully to conservative policy preferences.

If the 18th flips, even though Thibaut was one of the more moderate Democrats ideologically, that also will produce a more conservative representative. All of this continues a general pattern over the past couple of years of increasing chamber conservatism either from seats going from Democrat to Republican or incoming Republicans acting more conservative than the members they replaced.

Even the Democrats leaving from safe districts reflects the growing chamber conservatism. Hall, becoming Alexandria mayor, and Hunter, securing a judgeship, could have run again in 2019 and easily won. However, as liberals become more marginalized in the House with their policies ever less likely to make it into law, they increasingly try to escape into full-time political jobs where they don’t have to accept neutering.

From Edwards’ 2016 inauguration until today, only small partisan movement has occurred in the House – even under the optimistic scenario, Republicans would be just plus-3 in seats since then. Still, seven term-limited white Democrats who can’t run in 2020 – state Reps. Andy Anders, James Armes, Truck Gisclair, Dorothy Sue Hill, Robert Johnson, Sam Jones, and Bernard LeBas – had districts vote decisively for Trump, giving Republicans enough pickup chances to achieve a two-thirds supermajority in the chamber.

If the GOP can pick up a House seat on Feb. 23, it may portend several more coming its way on Oct. 12.

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