Legislators failed in the latter duty as a part of routing HB 113 by Democrat state Rep. Walt Leger. The bill would have amended the Constitution to elect jointly the governor and lieutenant governor although not defining the method, but it received barely half the votes necessary to advance an amendment.
On the floor, Leger pointed out that a majority of states used this method already, although only a couple of southern states do. While he said this pairing would reduce political conflict and rivalry, in eight of these states separate primary elections actually elect each as a party nominee, and in another three, regardless of its gubernatorial candidate’s preference, party conventions make the selection.
Leger claimed it would diminish political conflict, which implies the eventual procedure would have had the gubernatorial candidate select a running mate, mimicking the federal level (although there officially the nominating party makes a separate selection of both). But that would introduce more chaos into the existing deficient structure of Louisiana elections that utilizes the blanket primary, where all candidates regardless of party label run together. Voters presently have policy information conveyed by partisan label cues diluted when multiple candidates from the same party run together with multiple candidates from other parties.
Doubling this number only makes matters muddier for voters seeking to connect policy preferences to pairs. In short, if valuing clarity in the minds of voters, the blanket primary system is the worst kind of election method by which to have a joint election of the state’s top two officials.
Republicans pointed out that the move could induce more politics into governing. Rather than have voters choose an independent lieutenant governor possibly on the basis of policy, a gubernatorial candidate could choose someone on the basis of, for example, geographical considerations that looked more at electability than anything else. They noted that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, who in 2016 divisively had supported Leger as a minority-party House speaker, often preached about how politics shouldn’t intrude into policy-making,
Leger also said the amendment would address that the lieutenant governor technically takes control of the state when the governor physically leaves it. However, that archaic relic needs excision, not reshaping the Constitution around it. He also said it would make the office more useful with its currently limited duties overseeing culture, recreation, and tourism.
Eventually, Leger was asked by Republican state Rep. Blake Miguez why he wouldn’t just get rid of the office and/or devolve it to an existing office of some power, such as the upper chamber leader. Leger then admitted that the office does little and would be sympathetic to such an amendment.
He probably didn’t mean it. Like man-eating tigers who consume human flesh for the first time and find it to their liking, too many politicians get a taste of power when gaining office and want more, stoking progressive ambition. With term limits enforced in the Legislature, legislators are loath to eliminate any potential higher office with a full-time salary into which they could escape. Bipartisan majorities have defeated such elimination efforts in the past.
Yet Miguez did try to offer such an amendment. Despite staff spending some time in drafting such an amendment, he abruptly withdrew it, likely knowing it would go nowhere.
A more partisan outcome defined the bill’s fate, with most Democrats for it and most Republicans against it. While many in both parties may have wanted to keep the office, Democrats would increase their chances of getting not just one but two of their own into statewide elected executive office with the bill, as the ideological cues from partisan labelling become least important when focusing on the state’s top job, where personalistic campaigning increases in importance.
As welcome as that defeat was, it’s disappointing that representatives didn’t go further to start the process to eliminate a make-work job for ambitious politicians that does next to nothing.