Misunderstanding why Amendment 1 failed last weekend serves as a larger metaphor for the steady erosion of leftist legacy media influence in Louisiana.
That amendment would have allowed out-of-state residents to serve on state governing boards of higher education. The majority of states permit this, with proponents arguing that it allows for broader perspectives on higher education management, and certainly the state’s very underachieving system of higher education in the state could benefit from this additional input.
But Louisiana higher education management won’t benefit from a larger knowledge base until it moves away from its long-standing tendency to have too many political hacks awarded seats by the governor who appoints them with rubber-stamp Senate approval, who essentially buy their way onto a board. Let’s just review campaign contributions from the Board of Regents appointments made by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Lawyer Blake David gave the Edwards campaigns $16,000. Democrat former legislator Randy Ewing and his wife donated over $20,000. Entergy chief Phillip May parted with $3,500. Democrat former legislator Charles McDonald coughed up $3,250. Lawyer Jay Seale buttered both sides of the bread, giving the governor $1,000 and his brother Daniel Edwards, Tangipahoa Parish sheriff, $2,500. Businessman Gary Solomon ponied up $10,000. Republican former legislator Jerry Theunissen forked over $700. Lawyer Felix Weill sent $2,000. (Many of these listed also gave to the campaigns of Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, and/or to Ewing who served as Senate president from 1996-2000.)
Then there’s the special case of Claudia Adley, appointed by Edwards’ predecessor but who surely will get another bite at the apple upon the expiration of her term this month as her husband Republican former legislator Robert Adley’s campaign fund gave the Edwards campaigns $7,500. Robert Adley was appointed to the Board of Commerce and Industry by Edwards.
Do any of these appointees really have any outstanding qualification to serve on the top higher education board in the state? Especially the state legislators, who allowed the system to bloat to its currently wasteful level?
The amendment only would have compounded the problem, with its more consequential broadening being in the field of eligible big-money donors for a governor to pick rather than in management ideas generated. That’s why conservative new media and the state’s Republican Party came out against the measure, which wasn’t even on the radar until days before the presidential election when it surreptitiously glided through the fall legislative special session.
This was lost upon the Baton Rouge Advocate, whose story after the election expressed puzzlement that voters crushed the amendment by better than three-to-one. Apparently unaware of the state GOP’s public dissent, it observed that “No organized opposition to the plan surfaced ahead of the vote,” and included that the Council for a Better Louisiana had backed the measure.
Indeed CABL did, but almost no voter goes to the polls taking CABL’s views as gospel. But some do listen to what the state party has to say and/or what they read in outlets such as The Hayride. And in this particular election, they disproportionately comprised the electorate.
Last weekend was a low stimulus election. The amendment was the only statewide measure on the ballot, but two other regional contests approaching 40 percent of the population covered also were listed, the Public Service Commission race featuring Republican incumbent Eric Skrmetta who was widely expected to – and did – stomp his Democrat challenger, and the U.S. House of Representatives race between two Republicans won by Rep.-elect Luke Letlow. The rest of the ballot across the state had higher-profile city-parish elections in East Baton Rouge Parish, a district attorney’s contest and tax measures in Orleans Parish, and a number of judicial runoffs, another DA race, a smattering of ballot items, and Republican Party central committee contests.
In this environment, the amendment turnout largely would be driven by the regional and significant parish contests. In the congressional race, with two of their own competing Republicans would be expected to turn out disproportionately. The same would apply in the uncompetitive PSC race. Even the central committee contests would provide a bit of extra emphasis for Republicans and not other registrants to show up at the polls.
And not many who would show up would be casual voters. They much more likely would be activists, all the way from those heavily involved in party affairs to those with enough interest in politics to search for information about the ballot’s items online and/or discuss the matter with somebody more knowledgeable about such things and/or utilize social media and e-mail to find out about such matters authored by those who knew more. Again, keep in mind, this would be disproportionately Republicans, whose most active adherents had decided the amendment should go down and would reflect this attitude in their communiques.
Add to this that amendments also typically disproportionately attract “aginners” – chronic voters who, unless they see something suggesting otherwise, vote against every measure as they harbor suspicions about government and see any changes as an aggrandizement of it, wanting to live with the devil they know and not risking having to encounter the one they don’t. The only way to overcome this negative dynamic is when a measure directly benefits a relatively small group of people – the tax measure on Bossier Parrish’s ballot that slightly increased a property tax to fund corrections being a classic example from this election, which serves to ensure salaries and benefits roll into the sheriff’s office to operate the parish’s jails and thereby into the pockets of a number of deputies, who then disproportionately turn out and in support (take away a few hundred votes from this particular item representing jail employees and their families and it would have gone down last weekend, amassing only 52 percent approval).
Needless to say, the statewide amendment had no such built-in approval buffer. And, add one more factor: Louisianans often feel very parochially about the state. It may be close to the bottom in economic, education, and health, but they love it nonetheless and, drawing upon their populist past when interests outside the state were demonized as the author of the state’s shortcomings, they are put out by what they see as outsider insertion into their affairs. Undoubtedly some voters after having come to the polls for other reasons spied the measure at the ballot’s bottom reacted viscerally this way at its suggestion outsiders should come in to govern higher education and cancelled it like a postage stamp.
This adds up to a lot of inertia disfavoring it. It drew only 15 percent of the electorate – and so did the congressional contest. The PSC race garnered just 12 percent turnout. And these turnouts disproportionately attracted Republicans and conservatives and aginners, all down on the amendment. Even East Baton Rouge and Orleans electorates that would feature turnouts roughly 50 to 125 percent of the others that would attract more non-Republicans still saw the measure go down better than two-to-one.
If you understand election dynamics, the state’s political culture, and the ever-expanding reach of conservatism in it, none of this is a mystery. Unless, of course, you let a leftist ideology get in the way of your analysis, and for this we have as an example Jeremy Alford, a freelance journalist who runs his own political newsletter. Despite its online base, Alford is an old-school journalist whose weekly column run in a few newspapers and websites betrays a consistent liberal bias despite his attempt to write it to appeal to a broader audience.
Like almost all journalists, Alford doesn’t really understand conservatism or conservatives and resorts to caricatures, and proved it in his explanation of the amendment’s defeat – although not at first: “I was surprised by the fact that it was defeated. By-and-large these amendments are usually rubber-stamped by the electorate.” So why did it lose? “You only have to assume that a vote of no by the public meant that they either had strong feelings about it …”
Maybe he’s on to something. Conservative and Republican opposition – again, given the dynamics of the election a large portion of that particular electorate – plus the aginners did have strong feelings against it. And, less-interested voters with parochial feelings noticed it as well. Yet then he shows it all went over his head because when asked about the state GOP working against it, he whiffed, saying this didn’t play much of a part, despite the very obviousness of that – because it doesn’t fit the narrative of the dubious legitimacy of conservative ideas. Sifting through the numbers suggests the aginners and parochialists had a considerable impact, but what probably tipped the amendment underwater, and considerably, was the outsized influence had by party signaling, echoing conservative online media.
And then he added this: “… or [the public] more than likely just did not want to learn about the amendment.” This arrogantly implies that the electorate was too uninvolved to come to the “correct” preference on the issue – and sells short the electorate. If voters want to use heuristics of preferring the status quo or looking askance at out-of-state influence in casting votes, that’s as legitimate as weighing whether bringing in outside views conveys more benefits than the politics-as-usual mischief costs it threatens relative to appointments.
Note that Alford’s implication that voters got it wrong permeates the chattering classes in print. The traditional Louisiana print media (somewhat less so among its broadcast brethren) despairs that the state’s electorate sends so many conservatives into office and finds plenty of shibboleths to explain it away: money in politics, special interest influence, social issues being made too dominant, racism, sexism, or just plain ignorance. It’s their inbred conceit that if somehow voters could just learn properly about the issues, they would swoon for the liberal agenda.
News flash, guys: they do make issue-based calculations, and these reject liberalism. Some voters may analyze issues intently – and particularly when it comes to amendments – and many will use heuristics with the chief one being a candidate’s partisanship for elective offices, and the results are what they are, no matter how much the left complains and tries to avoid the genuine implication of election results: more often that not, as an agenda conservatism wins because it is more persuasive to the core beliefs of a majority of Louisiana electorates.
In the final analysis in this particular case, conservative preferences made a significant difference in this electoral outcome. Leftist media analysts need to put aside their ideological prejudices to understand that conservatism wins because of its ideas, or else risk ever-increasing irrelevancy in the Louisiana landscape of political influence.