State Parties Losing Steam

Political parties are losing much of their appeal in this state and elsewhere. That is probably why most voters aren’t aware that Louisiana Democratic and Republican Party members are qualifying this week for seats on their respective state and parish political party committees.

The election for those positions takes place next March 24, the date of Louisiana’s presidential preference primary. The primary will be open to only registered Democrats and Republicans because those are the only two parties in the state that have 40,000 or more members. Democrats make up 49.4 percent of the over 2.8 million registered voters, and Republicans account for 26.9 percent. Independents and no party voters total 23.4 percent.

More and more Americans are registering as independents, and they often hold sway over who is eventually elected in state and national elections. They helped elect President Obama in 2008, and they will once again determine who occupies the White House for the next four years.

Obama won the Louisiana presidential primary in 2008, and he is expected to be the only Democrat on next year’s ballot. A number of Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination, and all of them are expected to be on the state ballot March 24. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee edged out U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in Louisiana in 2008 — 43 to 42 percent, respectively.

Louisiana held its primary in February of 2008 in an effort to exert more influence on the nomination process. However, by the time the primary rolled around McCain had effectively secured the GOP nomination.

Only 20.3 percent of the state’s registered voters bothered to go to the polls in 2008, and the percentages were even lower in this corner of the state. Calcasieu Parish had the highest turnout in Southwest Louisiana at only 18.7 percent.

Bernie Pinsonat, a longtime Baton Rouge pollster, pretty well summed up voter attitudes about party primaries in comments he made prior to the 2008 Louisiana presidential primary.

“Most people are going to be cleaning out their sock drawer or washing their car or doing anything but marking their calendars to remind them about the presidential primary,” Pinsonat said.

Many “no party” voters (independents) were surprised to learn in 2008 that they couldn’t vote in the presidential primary. They had been voting in all elections since Louisiana went to an open primary system in 1975. Democrats and Republicans next spring can only ballot on candidates running under their party’s banner.

Party members are qualifying through Friday of this week for the 210 seats on the Democratic State Central Committee and the 230 seats on the Republican State Central Committee. Democrats elect one man and one woman each from the state’s redrawn 105 state representative districts.

Republicans are using the same districts they used in 2008, which can be viewed on the “scc” link at www. lagop.com. John Treen of Metairie, brother of the late Gov. Dave Treen, filed suit in an effort to reduce the 230 GOP seats to 144, which would have been based on the state’s Senate and House districts.

Treen won at the state district court level, but a Baton Rouge federal judge overruled that decision and said Republicans didn’t need to shrink the size of their state central committee.

Party members March 24 will also be electing members of parish Democratic and Republican Executive Committees, which operate independently of the state party. Some are at-large members and others are elected based on police jury and parish council election districts.

Top vote-getters will win most of those elections in the primary because there are no runoff elections unless other local races are on the ballot.

The Democratic Party has fallen on hard times in Louisiana. Republicans control all statewide offices with the exception of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. The GOP also has a majority in both the state House and Senate, the fi rst time since Reconstruction.

Buddy Leach of Lake Charles, chairman of the state Democratic Party, insists his party will rebound. He said he is focusing on re-engaging former local officials, lawmakers and Democratic Party leaders in party activities and candidate recruitment. Republicans insist it’s a lost cause.

Ask most Democratic and Republican voters how they feel about all of this party maneuvering and the odds are they will tell you it’s much ado about nothing. The best evidence of that is the constantly shrinking voter turnout at state and local elections. It will be interesting to see if the turnout in next year’s presidential primary improves on the dismal 20 percent turnout in 2008.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than ÿve decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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