As many of you might have already heard, the Louisiana Democratic Party is rolling it’s 35 city tour across the state tomorrow to spread the word that there still is a Democratic Party in Louisiana.
The tour, called Getting Back to Basics, could have easily been called “Restoring Relevance.” It was originally going to cover all of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, but was scaled back when party officials realized that they didn’t have the gas money.
As it is, the tour will start in Monroe and finish in Slaughter on Feb. 4. Democratic Party leaders billing it as a means rebuild the grassroots base. They will also be looking for at least one person who might want to run for statewide office in the future—something that they were unable to do in the recent fall elections.
It’s been a steady, slow decline for the once proud party that used to dominate politics in Louisiana as well as the rest of the South. Like many in Louisiana, I come from a family that was traditionally Democratic, but essentially conservative. Many in my family started switching to the Republican Party when they saw national Democrats veer further and further from their values. The problem that the party is having in Louisiana, of course, is that state Democrats are unable to separate themselves from national Democrats who tow-the-line of the most extreme elements in the party.
Louisiana has always been a conservative state and many who wore the party label as a matter of tradition or habit now look at the “D” beside the name of national politicians they despise something like Puritan colonialist looked at the “A” that Hester wore. They don’t want to be associated with anything like that in anyway.
President Obama’s unpopularity in Louisiana, which only has gotten worse with his administration’s hostility to the oil industry and incompetence in the BP oil spill crisis, has complicated things for the Louisiana Democratic Party.
While there might be a lot of Republicans gloating about the demise of Democrats in the state, it’s not all good news. It’s not that Democrats don’t deserve the fall they have taken after years of corruption when they ruled politics in the state, it’s that we need a vibrant two party system in Louisiana to help Republicans stay honest.
One party rule is never a good thing. It doesn’t really matter if those in charge have a “R” or a “D” next to their name when they appear on television—there needs to be viable opposition to keep state leaders in check. We have watched many public officials long associated with the Democratic Party become Republicans in recent years. Some might have made the switch in party affiliation because they they felt, like many of their constituents, that the party had shifted too far to the left.
Others switched for political expedience, because they could see the writing on the wall and wanted to remain in power or even grow their power like John Alario has. Zebras don’t change their stripes and in most cases Donkeys don’t either-if you get my meaning.
Ironically, Gov. Edwin Edwards did as much as anyone to bring about the rise of the Republican Party in Louisiana with his shenanigans in office and, more importantly, by pushing an open primary system in the state. Huey Long must be flipping in his grave over the realization that the Louisiana Legislature is now dominated by Republicans—brought about by former Rep. Noble Ellington jumping to the party over a year ago and giving the House to Republicans for the first time since Reconstruction—and that there is only one statewide official, Sen. Mary Landrieu, that is a Democrat.
Landrieu might very well lose her seat if Gov. Jindal decides to run for the U.S. Senate when his second term in up. He would have been term-limited out of the governorship by then and the Senate seems like the logical choice for him to go, if he isn’t tapped as the veep candidate on the Republican presidential ticket later this year. Democrats, it should be remembered, were not able to produce a viable candidate to run against Jindal in the recent gubernatorial election.
So will the Democrats be successful in their attempt to energize their base with the tour? I doubt it. The only chance they have in regaining any kind of power in the state is for a well-known conservative Democrat–someone like Al Ater–to run for office as governor the next time around and work to build the party the way Dave Treen did for Republicans in an earlier era. Alter is back farming in Ferriday, so it’s not likely that’s going to happen.
The only other person who might fit the bill for Democrats, and could raise the money needed, is Caroline Fayard, who will have problems in her association will national Democrats like the Clintons and because she has a big mouth, as evidenced by her “I hate Republicans,” gaff.
The Democrats have a hard row to hoe, as my grandfather might have said, in coming back to power in Louisiana. It’s made harder against the backdrop of a presidential election in which Obama is going to have to step up rhetoric to appeal to the Democratic base on a national level so they will turn out and vote for him in November.
Democrats in other parts of the country aren’t like Democrats in Louisiana, just as Republicans in places like Massachusetts aren’t like Republicans in Louisiana—much to Mitt Romney’s chagrin. The party has been brought to power on the national level by appealing to the emotions of ideologues in large urban areas. That doesn’t work so well in Louisiana, which is a conservative state.
The Democratic base might be best described in this clip featuring the late-great Bob Hope. I suspect that these are exactly the kind of people who will show up to listen to party leaders during the tour. This tour won’t help because fewer people outside of the most rigid ideologues are finding it worthwhile to rally under the party banner because they don’t see their lives improved after the election of Obama: