SADOW: The State Supreme Court Race Is A Classic Single-Issue Muddle

When was the last time Louisiana’s state party endorsed and Koch Industries donated the maximum to the same Democrat candidate for office? Probably never, and it illustrates the unusual cleavage cutting across and confusing the District 5 Supreme Court contest to be settled this weekend.

Current 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Democrat John Michael Guidry and Republican Jeff Hughes will meet in the general election runoff Saturday. While the district has nearly half Democrat registration, the majority of those whites under normal circumstances would join the vast majority of Republicans in voting for Hughes, while the remaining Democrats, most of whom are black with blacks comprising about a third of the district, would vote for Guidry. This means Hughes wins.

But circumstances may not be normal. Hughes is rated as generous to trial lawyers in liability cases, and particularly with respect to the “legacy lawsuits” filed against oil companies, despite comments to the contrary to the very organization that publicized this, and received major backing in the general election from the trial bar and has continued to through the runoff. This has caused several interest groups who normally back candidates who speak as Hughes does on most issues to either issue no endorsement in the contest, or to back Guidry. It also has spurred a donation by Koch to Guidry, of whom the brothers who run it routinely are made villains of by the conspiratorial-minded hard left in Louisiana and beyond, which typically gives only to the most conservative candidates in any kind of contest.

It’s an example of these groups so magnifying one issue that they may lose sight of the forest for the trees. Guidry might rate better on this isolated issue, but even this is debatable. While in the paper interview referenced above Hughes maintained that the medical malpractice cap currently in statute not only should be there but should not be raised, Guidry as a legislator prior to his assuming his position in 1998 has a history of wanting to remove it entirely (Guidry did not submit answers to these questions).

As a legislator, besides the malpractice bill in 1997 Guidry introduced legislation to do, among other things, weaken workfare requirements, grant employment favoritism in the civil service to public assistance recipients, and make it easier for employees to claim discrimination against employers. While he also introduced a handful of bills (among the several dozen that made him one of the most activist filers of legislation that session) that might please conservatives, it’s hard to imagine were he running for the Legislature again that this record would attract the same kind of endorsing and financial support he is getting from the right for this contest.

That’s why prominent statewide and area-wide Republican politicians and party organizations have endorsed Hughes. Even so, endorsements aren’t going to matter that much in this contest. Although in diminished proportions to the overall electorate compared to the general election, enough low-information voters will see the “Republican” next to Hughes’ name and the “Democrat” next to Guidry’s and, without the knowledge of any endorsements but perhaps remembering Hughes’ campaign prior to the general election that emphasized broad agreement with popular, conservative, and constitutional issue preferences, disproportionately will vote for Hughes.

Regardless, this contest remains a fascinating view into single-issue voting that makes a certain segment oblivious to all the other policy benefits that may accrue to them by the election of one candidate because of one aberrant perceived issue preference of his. As a whole, it seems clear that Hughes would decide more often in ways favorable to the business community’s preferences, as well as for conservatives, reformers, and strict judicial constructionists, but his presumed scarlet letter makes part of it back someone less likely to do so. Politics indeed makes for strange bedfellows.

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