The 2011 state elections are less than 24 hours away as this column is being written. Each election is unique, and this one is no different.
The office of governor in Louisiana is one of the most powerful in the nation. That being the case, governors’ races usually captivate the electorate in the Bayou State and are almost always the major topic of discussion in barber shops and ball parks in election years. Not so this year. The governor’s race was over before it began. The only question that will be resolved on election day is how huge of a margin Governor Jindal will roll up as he wins a second term.
Unless a supreme upset or two is sprung, Louisiana will enter 2012 with a Republican holding every statewide elected office—a first in the modern political history of the state. The two most contested races—for Lt. Governor and Secretary of State—pit two Republicans against each other in the fight to the finish. Current Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne has been outspent by a large margin by Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser but Dardenne hopes to ride his name identity and incumbency to a win in what will likely be a very close election. Dardenne left his prior elected post as Secretary of State to run for Lt. Governor when Mitch Landrieu vacated the office after his election as Mayor of New Orleans. Dardenne then appointed his assistant, Tom Schedler, to the post. Schedler is now locked in a tight race with current Speaker of the House Jim Tucker for the office.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell was the last Democrat to hold a statewide elected office. He switched parties before campaigning for re-election this year and completed the eradication of what was once Democratic supremacy of top elected offices in Louisiana.
A similar trend has been afoot in the Legislature as well. Neither chamber of the Legislature had been in Republican hands since Reconstruction until recently. Democrats maintained majorities—albeit shaky ones—in the House and Senate after the 2007 elections. Extreme voter dissatisfaction with President Obama’s policies—particularly the offshore drilling moratorium and permitorium—made it difficult for many Democrats to be cast in his shadow. Democratic defections led to Republican majorities in both the House and Senate before the elections got here. Now the GOP stands a good chance to expand its majorities in each Chamber—with an outside chance at a two-thirds majority in the Senate.
Not that long ago in Louisiana, most races were between Democrats, and instances where two Republicans opposed each other were rare. Now the tide is turning. Previously in many districts, Republicans couldn’t win but they could help determine which Democrat won an election—particularly in minority districts. Now many races are exclusively between Republicans, and Democrats will be reduced to helping decide which Republican wins in some of those elections.
What remains to be seen is how the influx of Republicans to elected office in Louisiana will impact issues. Certainly, the state is trending more conservative, and some Democrats have read those tea leaves and switched parties. The question that remains to be answered is were those switches due to a change in philosophy or were the former Democrats simply trying to inoculate themselves from electoral defeat?
Each election definitely has its own electoral DNA. That is certainly the case in 2011. How large of an ideological change this year’s election will produce will be determined not by the campaign promises and stump speeches before the election. It will be determined by the legislators’ voting patterns afterward.