Minority Power

The recent state elections gave a little more clarity to political trends in Louisiana. It is disappointing that only 35 percent of the registered voters in the state exercised their right to select their leaders in government, but that 35 percent is a good sample to help analyze the political landscape in the Bayou State as it currently exists.

Prior to the elections, voter dissatisfaction with President Obama and his policies resulted in numerous Democrats deciding to switch parties to the GOP. Those defections resulted in a Republican majority in the House and Senate of the state Legislature and every statewide elected office being held by a Republican. Again, those changes occurred before the recent election, not after it. The rash of party switching led some to think that the GOP could achieve a two-thirds majority in each house of the Legislature when the current elections were over. That isn’t going to happen, but the Republicans will continue to hold solid majorities in the House and Senate.

Interestingly, the majorities that the GOP will hold when the elected officials are sworn in next January will closely resemble the majorities the Democrats held in the Legislature before the Obama factor led to the party switches. Several decades ago (some would say it coincides with former Governor Edwin Edwards falling out of favor with a majority of voters) Louisiana started trending more conservative. It took a while for that trend to manifest itself in the form of more Republicans being elected to office.

There were many conservative Democrats holding elected office, individuals whose political ideology differed little from that of Republicans today. In due time, as more Louisiana voters (but nowhere near a majority) began to register as Republicans, those white Democrats began to fear being squeezed out in elections if a black Democrat and a white Republican ran against them. That led more former Democrats to switch over time and more to change their registrations before initially running for elected office. The result was a steady increase in the number of Republicans in elected office in Louisiana. President Obama’s policies, from health care to pro-union legislation to anti-energy production proposals made it difficult for Democrats to share his party affiliation. Obama’s drilling moratorium made it almost impossible.

The fact that Republicans now hold majorities in the Legislature and every statewide elected office means more Republicans will be running against each other, and there will be fewer Republican versus Democrat races. That became clear in the current election cycle. That will lead to an interesting dynamic: Democrats—especially black Democrats—will begin having a major role in deciding which Republican wins an election.

The phenomenon itself is not new in Louisiana. For years business interests took advantage of the demise of the once-powerful Democratic political machines in places like New Orleans and were successful in electing black Democrats who would open the door to working with the business community on economic development issues. The one-third white vote in those districts often became the key in determining which Democrat would win.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. When a Republican is pitted against another Republican in the future, the Democrats in those districts will have a huge say in which Republican wins. The major effect of that going forward will be to moderate the ideological swing to some extent going forward.

Louisiana has entered a new era in politics in the last few years, but if the past is prologue, the power of a minority in a district to influence future elections will be enhanced, not diminished.

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