Oddly, Louisiana Democrats likely will stay away from supporting their own party’s candidates to try to run the runoff election table against an electoral catastrophe for the state’s political left.
When the dust settled after Saturday’s elections, with one exception Louisiana’s conservatives had much about which to cheer. That bit of rain on their parade came in the form of incumbent Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards getting above 46 percent of the vote, making him the favorite to win reelection against Republican businessman Eddie Rispone in about a month’s time.
Everything else set the state’s left up for close to political disaster at the state level. Republicans snared enough House seats to put them on track to get a supermajority of 70. They reached the Senate supermajority mark of 26. A solid pro-reform majority appeared on poised to continue on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. In the only Supreme Court contest on the ballot, appellate court judge Will Crain, a solid conservative, led the field.
Runoff elections will determine whether the left has any potency in statewide politics, and only some of that hinges on Edwards’ reelection. Even if that happens, unless it catches a few breaks in other runoff contests, it will have little ability to stop a conservative agenda, much less pursue any of its own policy preferences.
In the House, eight contests feature non-inter-party matchups — five between major parties and the others having one non-major party candidate. In all the major party tilts, general election results favor the Republican candidates. This leaves them just two short of supermajority status.
One of the others, the 21st District, features a black Democrat against a white no-party candidate, where results and district demographics suggest the latter, Glen McGlothin, has a decent chance to win. He may lean more towards Republicans than Democrats, but any result doesn’t guarantee attaining the supermajority.
Results and registration numbers also suggest that in the 50th District Republican Vincent St. LeBlanc will win against black no-party candidate Raymond Harris. The remaining race in the 62nd District pits Republican Johnny Arceneaux against incumbent Independent Roy Daryl Adams, for a seat previously held by the GOP that Adams won in a special election only months ago.
The left may provide Harris some assistance, but it and Democrats probably will concentrate on helping Adams retain his seat as he proved he could defeat a Republican in the past even though the combined GOP vote in the general election exceeded 50 percent. Regardless, look for the party to consolidate on helping these two non-members, because a GOP sweep gives Republicans the supermajority of 70.
With the Senate already lost, unless something really wacky happens that makes the only major party runoff competitive (in the 16th District), the left will try to dilute the Republican caucus as much as possible. Term limits sent home a half-dozen GOP senators who often broke with the party and supported Edwards on issues such as taxes, education, and tort reform, replaced by only one, state Rep. Rogers Pope in the 13th District. A few other existing and incoming Republican senators also have defected to Edwards on important issues from time to time.
Having this goal of increasing the instability of the GOP coalition, knowing it likely will have to pick off two Republicans on big votes, look for Democrats to pour resources into reelecting Republican state Sen. Ryan Gatti. Facing GOP challenger Robert Mills who nearly eliminated him in the general election, Gatti’s consistent Republican-in-Name-Only tendencies make him stand out in the several all-Republican runoff matchups as a safety valve for the left.
Speaking of tort reform, that’s the defining issue in Crain’s runoff against fellow appellate judge Hans Liljeberg, who has attracted huge support from trial lawyers. As things stand, the current Supreme Court divides 3-3 between judges whose have sympathy for lawsuits against the energy industry for alleged environmental degradation and those who demand a higher burden of proof for success of these suits. Those donations suggest Liljeberg would join the pro-lawsuit crowd on the Court. While Crain is favored, expect Democrats to support Liljeberg so perhaps they can win on at least this issue.
Opposing education reform is the other issue that Democrats hope they can pursue with a favorable BESE. Election results produced five solid votes for reformers and their ally Superintendent John White. They needed six for an absolute majority but didn’t quite get it when in District 5 Ashley Ellis defeated Stephen Chapman, both Republicans. While her campaign rhetoric didn’t display outright hostility towards the reform agenda, it indicated some skepticism.
Thus, reformers can seal the deal in the District 6 runoff between GOP businessmen Ronnie Morris and Gregory Spiers. Morris has a long history of supporting reform efforts while Spiers’ statements suggest the opposite. Even as Morris came within a few thousand votes of winning outright, expect Democrats to back Spiers to the hilt to have any chance at trying to reverse reform with denying White a long-term contract as part of the process.
So, Democrats find themselves in the strange position of supporting candidates not of their own party if they want to avoid complete electoral disaster from the 2019 state elections.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. He has studied and written about Louisiana politics for more than a quarter of a century, and authors the blogs Louisiana Legislature Log and the award-winning Between the Lines.