Ready or not, like it or not, elections are here in Louisiana. Things have changed so fast in the Bayou State that it is hard to put the next two months of the election cycle into perspective. The political landscape in Louisiana has been turned upside down since the last election cycle in 2007. At that time, Democrats occupied numerous statewide offices, and both the House and the Senate in the Legislature were majority Democrat. The election of 2007 saw Republicans make gains in the Legislature and statewide offices, but the Democrats were still very much in the game.
Fast forward to 2010—a year the Democratic Party in Louisiana would like to remove from the annals of history.
In April of that year the Macondo oil spill erupted in the Gulf of Mexico. In and of itself, that was not a problem for Democrats. In a matter of weeks that changed when President Obama shut down drilling in both deep-water and shallow-water areas of the Gulf. That action put thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity in jeopardy. The effects of those actions are still being felt today, by businesses and workers—and by what is left of the state Democratic Party.
Politically, the effect was felt immediately. Democrats in the Legislature from moderate to conservative-leaning districts began switching to the Republican Party in significant numbers. In a span of a few months, majority control of both houses of the Legislature changed from Democrat to Republican. There is little doubt that the major catalyst for those switches came from President Obama’s economic blow to Louisiana’s economy via his moratorium on drilling, his push for tax increases and stifling business regulations, and his precipitous decline in popularity.
In several legislative special elections over the past year, Republicans won in districts the GOP would have never carried in the past. When qualifying ended for the upcoming October elections, some of the most contested races were not Democrats and Republicans pitted against each other, but Republicans challenging Republicans. The political war unfolding for the lieutenant governor’s office is a prime example of that syndrome.
In 2010, the GOP took back the House of Representatives in Congress and made significant gains in the Senate. If that trend continues in 2012, it could lead to a sea change in the national political landscape. Two special elections on September 13 gave an indication that the trend is alive and well. In Nevada, a Congressional seat vacated by a Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate was won easily by a GOP state senator running against the treasurer of Nevada. But the big surprise was the New York special election to fill the seat vacated by scandal-ridden liberal Democrat Anthony Weiner. This is the seat once held by Geraldine Ferraro and the current U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer—hardly conservatives. Though Democrats hold a 3-1 registration advantage in the district, political novice Republican Bob Turner easily defeated Democratic establishment operative David Weprin. Turner ran on two themes: chiding Obama for his lack of support for Israel (Weprin is Jewish but that didn’t help him in a heavily Jewish district) and opposing the president’s job-killing agenda. Middle-class and Jewish voters sent President Obama a message that may reverberate in many other regions in 2012.
There are many good moderate and conservative Democrats who want to create real jobs and protect the security of our nation. I have worked with many of them over the years to improve Louisiana’s economy and revamp our education system. Those mainstream Democrats now operate in a challenging political environment in Louisiana and many other states. They need leadership in their party that will go against the grain and push for policies that will grow and nourish private sector jobs and reverse the suffocating increase in burdensome regulations. So far, that door is being closed in their faces.