The narrow reelection of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards
does nothing to change the trajectory of electoral politics both in Louisiana and
in America as a whole.
One school of thought, which sticks up its head
every time a Democrat at odds with his national party on a few issues wins in a
jurisdiction that favors Republicans, evinces hope that Democrats as a whole
can learn from the experience to steer the nation as a whole from its lean to
the right that favors Republicans. We heard
a version of this last week from my counterpart on radio host/entrepreneur Jim
Engster’s Talk Louisiana program on Baton Rouge FM station WRKF, Mary-Patricia
Wray played a prominent role in Edwards’ 2015 campaign,
but since has moved on to her own consulting business. In a discussion about
the future beyond the (then undecided) governor’s race, she spoke that an
Edwards win might serve as a model for Democrats going forward. She likened partisan
politics and the median voter to a “pendulum,” and that the model presented
might shift that pendulum representing Democrats closer to matching the median
In the 2019 Louisiana governor elections post-mortems,
analysts have made a number of valid points about base
activation and campaign
quality (or lack thereof) to explain the narrow reelection of Democrat Gov.
John Bel Edwards.
But they miss the most critical aspect of all: how a small cadre of those who
call themselves conservatives ended up pulling the lever for an unambiguously liberal
politician when presented with a solid, mainstream, and credible alternative in
Republican Eddie Rispone decided the contest.
To explain the phenomenon, two case studies
suffice. We begin with Rod Dreher, who has pretty good conservative
credentials. He’s published in such places of superior conservative analysis as
National Review, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, and the Washington
Times. But, as he explained in his American
Conservative column, he voted for Edwards.
That turns out to be a head-scratcher, to say the
Louisiana learned some lessons from the conclusion
of 2019 state elections, primarily focused on
the gubernatorial contest – largely unflattering, but with some hope for
the distant future.
Personalism still matters more than issues and
ideology. Louisiana’s electorate to a degree not seen elsewhere in the Union
places its emphasis on candidate images at the expense of issue preferences in
its voting decisions. The state’s history of paternalistic government, its
population’s lower levels of educational attainment, and its relative lack of
economic development and the insularity that produces all contribute to this
being out of step with the nation as a whole and even makes it distinct
compared to its regional neighbors.
Louisiana voters, even as this aspect of the political
culture continues to erode, disproportionately don’t incorporate and analyze
information about candidate records and preferences in making their decisions, preferring
to supplanting that with vague perceptions (often influenced by negative
advertising that has little to do with reality) about candidates as leaders and
providers of things. In essence, the fog created by personalistic appeals
obscures the ability of many to vote in their own self-interests (such
as this guy, who should know better).
Louisiana proved it’s not yet ready for primetime because, as the state’s
junior senator suggested, too many Louisianans are happy with crappy.
Runoffs for 2019 state elections could have resulted
in a different story. At their conclusion, had several things happened the erosion
of living standards and opportunity for the majority that begun under Democrat
Gov. John Bel Edwards
could have commenced. Tax relief, putting government on a small diet, more
efficient use of funds, increased personal responsibility from those receiving
government largesse, fiscal reform that rewards initiative rather than
encouraging dependency and rent-seeking, and tort reform would have followed
had conservative Republicans hit the perfecta.
They almost got it. The Board of Elementary and Secondary
Education will continue to implement education reform based upon accountability
and choice as intended under reforms instituted by GOP former Gov. Bobby
Jindal, with the election of Republican Ronnie Morris to District 6 that
will give that bloc a healthy majority. The Louisiana Supreme Court will retain
a majority open to curtailing tort overreach and jackpot justice with the
election of Republican Will Crain to District 1.