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Don't expect LA closed primary spread soon

The switch in a couple of years to closed primary elections in Louisiana for all federal offices and select plenary bodies stands little chance of expanding any time soon.

After all sorts of machinations, the recent special session of the Legislature added partially closed primaries for election to all federal offices, save presidential preference primaries that remain fully closed – meaning voters only may participate in the party primary matching the label under which they registered, although parties have the option of allowing unaffiliated voters to participate as well – and for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Public Service Commission, and Supreme Court. These partially closed primaries are like full closed primaries except parties cannot prevent unaffiliated voters from participating in their particular primary if so chosen by a such a voter when accessing a ballot.

This will have zero immediate effect, since provisions don’t kick in until 2026, so that means the Supreme Court District 2, Public Service Commission District 2, and House of Representatives seat elections scheduled for this year, plus any special elections that may occur for these or the rest of the Supreme Court or PSC or BESE or either Senate seat from now until the end of 2025 will occur under the existing blanket primary rules. After that, partially closed primaries will kick in for all of these, held on the March municipal primary date.


New LA House map: short stay, long litigation

Louisiana’s new congressional districts are on the books. What happens next is a period of instability that may not clear up until the next census.

January’s special session jettisoned prior district boundaries that contained only one majority-minority district in favor of two, as a response to an adverse court decision based upon the outcome of the Allen v. Milligan U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The ensuing plan radically altered principally parts of the Fourth and Sixth Congressional Districts, with the latter giving up its reach from Baton Rouge to the coast by running up the Red River to take bites out of Lafayette, Alexandira and Shreveport, pushing a dagger into the Fourth and becoming M/M.

This almost assuredly will put Republican Rep. Garret Graves out of office later this year, with Democrat state Sen. Cleo Fields already having announced his candidacy for the slot; Graves is white while Fields is black. A congressman only has to live in the state in which he runs, not in a particular district, but Graves has little chance winning in any other district currently held by a Republican since his base still is in the Baton Rouge area.


Chandler confirms reelection unsuitability

Despite going along with the Bossier City Council in doing the right thing for tax renewals in a few months, at its latest meeting Republican Bossier City Mayor Tommy Chandler demonstrated why his time in office must end after a single term.

Chandler ran in 2021 as a foil and a reformer. He won because he wasn’t 87 years old that had spent 32 years at the top of city government watching and presiding over wasting a golden opportunity to make the city a low-tax, low-fee magnet for economic growth that provided superior public safety and other services. He won also because he said he would boost pay for public safety employees, try to lower taxes, and look to cut “wasteful” spending (while “Pet projects and wasteful government spending will not be tolerated”).

Since then, he has done next to nothing to fulfill these promises, if not engaging in backsliding. Outside of one-time bonuses and mandated supplemental pay raises for public safety employees – which haven’t kept up with inflation – no permanent discretionary pay raises have been given, largely because the city’s enormous debt servicing eats up revenues. Taxes haven’t gone down but fees have gone up, while there’s no sign wasteful spending has been curtailed. Some budget-busting items, like giving away a fitness center, died on the vine although Chandler seems to have had nothing to do with that, while others, such as giving away potentially a waterworks, staying in the tennis business, spending big bucks to expand park facilities to generate revenues but shut out citizens’ use of these, and building an idol to politicians past and present apparently proceeded without his objection, if not with his blessing.

Perhaps the most trenchant way of viewing Chandler’s term is what would be different about how the city has been run if instead of his presence a cardboard cutout of him had been situated in his office or at Council meetings? He did make efforts to ensure the city followed its charter in putting term limits on the ballot, although other than signing the petition to do that he did nothing to get it to that point of ballot inclusion. And his only visible attempt to reduce government spending was to propose unwise, later attenuated, cuts to public transportation.

Summarizing how Chandler has become a cipher in efforts to stop city fiscal mismanagement was his obeisance to the process rigged in favor of Manchac Consulting’s retention of its management contract of city engineering and public works. The last time this came up, fewer than two months before Chandler took office, he complained that the termination clauses made it much more difficult for the city to make it change and that incoming elected officials were handcuffed by the three-year length when a shorter extension would do.

They were good questions because they spoke to creating a framework of incentives that would improve Manchac’s performance, which has been spotty (and little did anyone know then, Manchac included, about a costly error Manchac made on keeping open a railway crossing at Shed Road that would force its closing months after the pervious renewal). Indeed, the termination issue spoke directly to whether the contract, then and now, violates the city charter because that language attenuates the mayor’s ability to fire a city engineer.

But Chandler not only had no such criticism earlier this month when extending the contract came before the Council, but also he praised Manchac’s work and supported its payment increase, now 50 percent higher than the last time he spoke on the issue. Nor did Chandler’s administration, according to a public records information request, follow the Charter in certifying Manchac as a single source vendor.

That was glossed over by the continued ridiculous assertion by Assistant City Attorney Richard Ray that the city was prohibited to competitively bid the contract. Not only does this contradict the practice of other cities, as Republican Councilor Chris Smith noted, but also commenter Wes Merriott related that he spoke to the chief legal counsel of the Louisiana Legislative Auditor who said the law in no way prohibited that. Merriott phrased the inanity of that assertion as a product either of incompetence or deliberate deception on Ray’s part, as a means to justify the no-bid renewal.

Ray technically works for City Attorney Charles Jacobs, currently on medical leave. But Jacobs works for Chandler and can be dismissed at any time, over any issue such as legal department staffing. Not that Chandler hasn’t had cause to dump Jacobs for a number of breaches, including Jacobs actively working to sabotage the very cause about which Chandler showed his rare penchant for standing on his own hind legs, term limits.

Smith was joined by Republican Brian Hammons and no party Jeff Darby in opposing the extension, while Darby’s fellow graybeards Republicans David Montgomery and Jeff Free and Democrat Bubba Williams, plus Republican rookie Vince Maggio voted in favor, leading to a narrow 4-3 approval. Those on the losing side took pains to note that they found, as did Chandler, Manchac’s performance satisfactory, but that competition might turn up the possibility of an even better performer, resulting in best use of taxpayer dollars.

Chandler could have vetoed this ordinance, but didn’t. It’s emblematic of his full co-optation into the get-along-go-along mode of governance that has plagued the city for going on three decades, which is not the spinelessness or carelessness needed to guide the city out of its past pattern of throwing money at boondoggles and special interests to the citizenry’s detriment.

There are signs of progress. At the meeting, the Council approved ballot language that would send to the ballot property tax renewals at the maximum authorized rates, which are lower than the rates last approved in 2015 of 8.45 (down to 8.32) and 2.75 (down to 2.71) mils, making it more difficult for the city to hike taxes.

But that just means there’s less money to waste, which doesn’t halt the wastage. If that is to stop, the city needs a mayor committed to that task. Chandler hasn’t shown he’s up to snuff to do that. Therefore, he needs to be replaced.


Why it failed part III: hardly closed primaries

The most cataclysmic failure of the concluded 2024 First Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature was genuinely closed primary elections for all Louisiana federal offices and statewide plenary executive and judicial contests (much less for statewide single executive, legislative, and appellate and district court offices) won’t come anytime soon.

Recently, particularly Republicans had stumped for closed primaries, and even made legislative overtures to close primaries for all federal contests, as presidential preference primaries have been for decades. This means only registrants of that party could vote to determine a general election nominee, as opposed to the current blanket primary which actually isn’t a primary but instead a general election contest without party nominees where all candidates regardless of labelling run together. If no candidate receives a majority, a runoff election occurs.

In this session, Republican Gov. Jeff Landry backed even more ambitious changes that would have created unadulterated closed primaries for all majoritarian branch contests at the federal and state level. Major parties at their own discretion could opt in to let unaffiliated voters participate in these contests. The plurality winner in a primary would advance. Local offices were excluded, which is not inconsistent in that the current blanket primary system simulates nonpartisan local elections commonly held across the country.


Why it failed part II: judicial remap distraction

Another reason the now-concluded 2024 First Extraordinary Session of the Louisiana Legislature failed was wasted energy on the nonessential task of state Supreme Court reapportionment.

Republican Gov. Jeff Landry and the GOP supermajorities in both legislative chambers scored an own goal by capitulating without good reason in willingly creating a congressional reapportionment plan that almost certainly will cost their party a seat in 2024, although the defective nature of the plan makes it likely that it will be litigated and that probably litigation in other venues ending up changing the existing parameters of reapportionment jurisprudence makes it unlikely the same configuration will be around in 2026. Add to that Louisiana’s GOP politicians nearly put another shot into their own net by trying to do the same to Court districts in carving out a second majority-minority district to double up on the existing one.

Landry has been concerned for years about malapportionment of Court districts, which last faced reapportionment in 1997. Keep in mind, however, that current jurisprudence about judicial electoral districts is that malapportionment is not a justiciable issue, nor is any concern about racial representation since in wording neither the 14th or 15th Amendments nor the Voting Rights Act cover judicial elections, as that branch of government is considered to adjudicate and not make policy. There would have to be an extraordinary and unanticipated shift in that jurisprudence to change that to make judicial reapportionment a constitutional concern and in need of alteration.