Each state has a botched Wuhan coronavirus pandemic response by its Democrat governor, who also turns out to be a hypocrite on the issue. As a consequence, each state suffers economically. Yet only one stands a good chance of enduring a recall election, telling us about the state’s politics and culture
California Gov. Gavin Newsom faces increasingly rough waters over this discontent. Things started out well in terms of his initial response but eventually cases and deaths began a steady march upwards while Newsom, although with some temporary retreats, steadily clamped down harder and more widely on the economy. The fallout triggered depopulation to the point likely now the state will lose a seat in the House of Representatives in the upcoming reapportionment and a cascade of significant employers decamping to low-tax states.
Other self-inflicted wounds from his penchant for over-regulation and over-taxation have led to dissatisfaction about him. Yet the straw that looks to have broken the camel’s back came when he was caught at an enormously expensive dinner party — with many restaurants closed by his orders or run out of business — without wearing a mask that his orders dictate. With three months to go, recall organizers claim a recent spike in enthusiasm has put them more than halfway to the nearly 1.5 million signatures required to put the recall and (if that succeeds) subsequent election to replace him in place.
However, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, despite fitting largely the same profile, appears much likelier to avoid putting the rest of his governorship on the ballot. In contrast to Newson’s encouraging start, Edwards botched his response off the bat and magnified the state’s economic suffering (diluted in California by its more diversified economy) with his heavy-handed and ineffective response. Like Newson, he also got caught in a “do as I say, not as I do” moment when photographed without following his own masking and up close to others in a ritzy public place.
Still, his job appears substantially safer than Newsom’s for two reasons. First, even with Louisiana at about an eighth of California’s population, a successful recall petition here will need over two-fifths of the amount of signatures needed out west because the 10 percent of registered voters needed there for a successful petition pales in comparison to the one-fifth required in Louisiana (which until a couple of years ago was a third). Even though the current effort, which has a couple of more months to run, seems well-organized, it will be a tall order to come up with more than 620,000 signatures by the end of February deadline.
Although perhaps more daunting is the obeisance Louisianans pay to their elected officials. In a sense, Louisiana has a schizophrenic political culture when it comes to the relationship between the governors and the governed. More than the people of almost every other state, Louisianans have an interest in election outcomes, as demonstrated in their relative voter registration levels, voting turnout, and their level of involvement in other forms of electoral participation.
Yet once settled by elections, Louisianans are among the meekest and least inquisitive in how they relate to elected officials and what they do. This stems from the state’s colonial period, which featured over a century’s worth of rule by authority figures who took orders from abroad (and, in the early part, who resided far away from today’s state boundaries).
That persisted into the nineteenth century with more emphasis on rule by an elite than elsewhere, and refreshed when populism began its march through state government after the Civil War where the state’s people seeking to wrest power from the cabal of elites in power invested their hopes in figurative men on horseback that they trusted to do the job, in exchange for obedience to each successive man.
This makes Louisianans general less excitable and amenable to acting outside of regular elections to remove a leader. They can be counted upon reliably in large numbers to voice their opinions at the ballot box at regular intervals, but outside of those occasions they have a myriad of distractions they’d rather pursue to a greater degree than, say, Californians who don’t place nearly the trust in elected officials that they themselves see as more independent of them.
Thus, Californians get up in arms and go after the offending official. In Louisiana, they might carp and grumble, and the more disgruntled leave — an attitude now part of the state’s political culture which until recently was unthinkable in California — while the rest put it aside and concentrate on the next Saints game or upcoming Carnival season (hint to the recall leaders: with Carnival essentially cancelled statewide by Edwards and local officials, now until the deadline which comes just after Carnival would have ended might be a fertile time to collect signatures).
Any recall effort in Louisiana has to fight past this cultural attitude, and more than anything else it explains why next year Newsom, who already has hired a team to fight a recall, likely will have a date on which his political fate will be determined while Edwards has called himself unworried about it and can relax believing he’ll avoid the same fate.
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. He can be reached at jeffsadowcolumn-HannaPub@yahoo.com.