The Voice of Louisiana, Part II (Legislative races)
In the previous installment, we looked at the statewide races. In this installment, we will look at the legislative races.
We had noted before that there was a sense that the Louisiana Democratic Party, which as recently as 2005 controlled every statewide office, would be irrelevant in this year’s political climate. And Republican legislative victories in areas that once gave Edwin Edwards over 70% of the vote, combined with a deluge of party switches in the wake of the 2010 elections, added to that prevailing wisdom. This was the political context for the aggressive targeting from Senator Vitter and Governor Jindal of Democratic open seats and/or incumbent Democratic legislators. Additionally, the TEA Party targeted Republican legislators they thought were not sufficiently conservative. Were they successful?
In the Louisiana Senate, no incumbent Democrat was defeated outside of reapportionment (although two term incumbent Ben Nevers of Bogalusa was held to 51%). And for that matter, no incumbent Republican legislator was defeated either, despite the efforts of the TEA Party. In fact, the closest Republican race was that of two term incumbent Bob Kostelka, who was held to 52%, even though the TEA Party was not explicitly involved in that race.
From a partisan perspective, the balance in the Senate is set now at 24 Republicans and 15 Democrats. There are four runoffs remaining: two are in black district districts in Shreveport and Lafayette/Opelousas where former incumbents are seeking a comeback. A third runoff is in a newly created black majority district in the River Parishes. The final runoff is a Republican on Republican race along the Texas border where an incumbent backed by Governor Jindal faces the former occupant of the seat. Though the district gave 76% of the vote to Governor Jindal, the balance of power is in the 25% who voted for the Democrat, so this will be an interesting runoff to watch.
The partisan picture is less clear in the House. Just like the Senate, no incumbent of either party lost outside of reapportionment, even though the Republicans targeted several Democratic seats. As of right now, 49 Republicans have been elected (a majority is 53 out of 105 members), as have 34 Democrats and an Independent (“Dee” Richard of Thibodaux). If you include the 21 runoffs where you have Republican/Republican or Democrat/Democrat races, the partisan balance becomes 54 Republicans, 41 Democrats, and an Independent. Depending on the outcome of the runoffs, you are looking at a Republican delegation of between 54 and 62 Republicans (the current breakdown is 57 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and 2 Independents).
Even though the GOP’s targeting efforts did not seem to produce the windfall they hoped for (arguably, party switchers removed most of the “low hanging fruit”), the GOP still has time on their side: their best strategy is to use term limits and/or vacated Democratic seats as their source of additional legislative seats. For instance, Senator Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa) was re-elected with 51% of the vote, and his district voted 66-28% for David Vitter. He is term limited in 2015. His seat should be the Republicans’ top priority, particularly since his district contains parts of St Tammany and Tangipahoa that are seeing a steady influx of decidedly Republican residents from Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
On the House side, there are three GOP favorable seats whose Democratic incumbents are term limited: Jim Fannin (D-Jonesboro), Mickey Guillory (D-Eunice), and Harold Ritchie (D-Bogalusa). All three of these districts gave David Vitter over 60% of the vote and should be the Republicans’ top priority for pickups.
Enter the black Republicans
As a final thought, six black Republicans ran for legislative seats. How did they fare ? While none of them were elected (or even made the runoff), their performance last night was promising: all got between 14 and 26% of the vote, and if you allow for the fact that a house district in Baton Rouge had two black Republicans running, that district gave 30% of its vote to a black Republican. So while the efforts seem fruitless this year, this is light years ahead of 2007, when three black Republicans ran for the legislature, and all received between 8 and 12% of the vote. In other words, by the time the next reapportionment election comes around (and maybe even before that), black Republicans will be viable politically in Louisiana.
In the interest of space, we will discuss in the next installment the BESE races and how Baton Rouge contractor Lane Grigsby is someone who has established himself on the political scene by accomplishing something that has continually eluded conservative/business interests in the past.