One of my proudest political accomplishments happened five years ago when I cobbled together a coalition of political leaders from both sides of the spectrum to support moving Louisiana’s presidential primary to a date that would make the state’s delegate contest relevant.
It was the first time ever that the Louisiana Republican Party and the Louisiana Democratic Party had ever come together to support a piece of legislation.
The bill passed and both sides benefited from the increased media exposure, voter participation in the primary and candidate visits.
In the summer of 2010, in an attempt to “fix things”, both party national committees decided to bring order to the calendar chaos that led to so much front loading by state parties by passing rules reordering when states could have their caucuses and primaries.
The new rules protected Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada’s early status while establishing harsh penalties for states that wanted to hold their contests before the first Tuesday of March.
That concept was sound and a welcome innovation. However getting 50 states and several federal territories to get on the same page is a bit like herding cats. Especially since elections, as we learned from 2000, are conducted very differently amongst the states.
In some states the party controls the setting of election dates; in others the legislature. New Hampshire has vested its secretary of state with power to set his state’s primary date to assure that the Granite State’s can be first.
Louisiana’s primary date is set by statute. Or to phrase it another way, it takes an act of the legislature to change it.
A bill was drafted and introduced this session to bring Louisiana into compliance with both national parties. While the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee passed multiple resolutions endorsing the move, the Louisiana Democratic Party remained cryptically silent.
That is until Wednesday.
After the primary date change bill sailed out of the House of Representatives without so much a dirty look, the legislation was ambushed before the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.
By a vote to 6-1, the bill was “indefinitely deferred”. When I argued that they killed it, I was corrected by a senator that there was a difference. However with the legislative session calendar ticking down to its last days, my phrasing stated the obvious while her word merely stated the “manner of death”.
Amazingly enough the bill was rejected without comment.
In several decades of watching politics I have never seen something defeated before a governmental body without explanation.
When I chased down one Democratic senator who had much to say about a resolution that endorsed the concept of a constitutional convention and asked for an explanation, I was greeted with a silent shrug of he shoulders.
When I chased down Baton Rouge State Senator Daniel Claitor (one of two Republicans who voted with the Democratic bloc) and asked for a reason for his vote, Claitor, who spoke for over 30 minutes on the previous bill related to a Ten Commandments monument, was uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
Why would the Democrats engage in such petty politics?
And why were they joined by two Republicans in their silent derailing (the other Republican being Jody Amedee)?
Were Republicans simply asleep at the wheel and duped by Democratic partisans into providing them cover for their machinations?
Let me explain the fallout from this move.
First, the Louisiana GOP will look like fools this week when presidential candidates visit New Orleans to speak at the Republican Leadership Conference and read in the newspaper how the presidential primary bill was defeated for no stated reason.
Secondly, the Louisiana GOP will simply opt out of the primary and thus turn it into a meaningless $6,000,000 “beauty contest” with no delegates at stake. Four years ago the Louisiana Republican Party was mocked for having rules that denied former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee from having a single delegate because he “only” won a plurality and not a majority of the Louisiana GOP vote.
At least this time it won’t be the party’s fault, just the party’s senators when we are once again embarrassed.
Thirdly, Louisiana will draw less attention and thus fewer visits from Republican presidential candidates, who are going to spend time where delegates are at stake. In addition to the loss of attention, Louisiana would also lose the opportunity to educate candidates, perhaps a future president, about the federal issues that are important to our region and miss out on the promises that New Hampshire and Iowa are showered with every four years.
For a state struggling with a White House imposed oil exploration embargo and losing acres of land a day to coastal erosion, we need national figures to learn about Louisiana.
Fourthly, because the primary will be unofficial Republicans looking to participate in the caucuses that will be held could end up having to drive a considerable distance to have their voices heard.
When looking at the Picassos the legislature drew for congressional districts in the reapportionment session, someone who lives in Washington Parish might end up having to go to Alexandria. Also keep in mind we now have two districts that run from Arkansas to I-10.
Had the Republicans attempted to do this in 2004, state Democrats would have screamed bloody murder and accused the GOP of trying to deny the franchise to poor voters by burdening them with the expense of traveling to a caucus site.
I can imagine the outcry, the protests, the demagoguery, the lawsuits and maybe even a visit from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division that would stem from that maneuver.
But since the Democrats won’t have a competitive primary as President Barack Obama will likely be unchallenged, they see an opportunity to kick the GOP in the shin.
For a party that has thus far been unable to field a candidate for governor, I suppose these cheap wins count as an accomplishment these days.
Whatever feelings of euphoria gained from this slight will be fleeting with the enmity and ill will that are the byproduct from this Democratic “victory” lasting.
Update: It’s Not Dead Yet
Senate and Governmental Affairs Chairman Bob Kostelka scheduled a rehearing on the bill for this Friday. If you know the individuals on the committee, please contact them and let your voice be heard. The senators’ contact info can be found at www.legis.state.la.us.
Votes for deferral (no votes)
Karen Carter Peterson D-New Orleans
Lydia Jackson D-Shreveport
Rob Marionneaux D-Livonia
Daniel Claitor R-Baton Rouge
Jody Amedee R-Ascension Parish
Vote against deferral (yes vote)
Mike Walsworth R-Monroe
Jack Donahue R-St. Tammany Parish