As qualifying for the U.S. House Fifth District seat being vacated by Rep. Rodney Alexander wraps up, a white potentially competitive Democrat plans to enter the contest so that his party may dream of picking off the district. Can this guy make it a reality?
Simply, a black Democrat is unlikely to win, given none of them are close to conservative enough to attract anything beyond the paltry numbers of the hard left/Angry Left among whites within the district. Thus, the party’s only hope is in getting a white Democrat who could demonstrate some crossover appeal to more conservative whites.
And into the ring last week went the hat of State Rep. Robert Johnson, a white Democrat from around former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ old stomping grounds. Johnson perhaps is best known for attacking the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration’s plans to privatize prison operations in central Louisiana. Although he and others succeeded in stopping that efficiency measure, he did provide a truckload of asinine comments that can be exploited by opponents in his current endeavor by his repeated demonstrably erroneous assertions that streamlining corrections would cost more and by claims that taxpayers had the obligation to pay more in order to increase the number and remuneration of state employees. Making matters tougher, he had less than $15,000 as of the end of 2012 in his state campaign account, which he can use for this contest, and his 2011 personal disclosure form (having filed for an extension for the 2012 edition) shows he might have difficulty in self-financing a sprint to the Oct. 19 election.
Whether Johnson can pull off either scenario largely rests with his competitive GOP opponents. This is because Johnson deliberately will distract from his record in the Legislature of supporting expansion of government by directing his campaign rhetoric to the last bastion for white Democrats to get elected in Louisiana, proclaiming fealty to God and guns. Some of his more significant votes from that record are as follows:
- In 2013, he voted for HB 532 that set up a constitutional amendment to allow hospitals to charge a “sick tax” on clients and against SB 117 that would have created a commission to formulate standards that would increase efficiency in spending of higher education dollars.
- In 2012, he voted against HB 61 that addressed the state’s runaway pension deficits that have come about from the overgenerous nature of their benefits (and has voted this way repeatedly on many previous efforts as well), against HB 292 that allowed the referendum that enabled voters to impose term limits on every single school district in the state that didn’t already have them, and against HB 974 and HB 976 that ushered in expanded family choice in schools through vouchers and expanded course choice options and installed a realistic evaluation system of teachers to weed out the incompetents protected under the previous system.
- In 2011, he voted for SB 6 that would have acted as a poison pill to charter school formation by forcing traditional school pension liabilities on them.
- In 2010, by being absent without leave he effectively voted against HB 1247 that prohibited health insurers from including elective abortion in any health care coverage.
- In 2009, he voted for HB 705 that would have restricted businesses’ ability to pay according to actual work done by allowing government to intervene to close the mythical “wage gap” between men and women.
- In 2008, he voted for HB 1198 that allows the state to punish political candidates for speech it deemed “false,” against HB 1347 that created the state’s initial voucher program in New Orleans, and against SB 807 that opened up competition for cable television.
By contrast, one of the major Republican candidates, state Sen. Neil Riser, voted the opposite way on all of these except for voting for HB 1198 in 2008 and on three others where the Senate didn’t vote on them. Another, state Rep. Jay Morris, who unlike Riser and Johnson is only in his first term, voted against Johnson’s preferences in 2012 and with them in 2013.
The Louisiana Legislature Log’s voting index, which assigns highest scores to legislators who vote conservative and reform preferences and lowest scores to those who vote liberal and populist preferences, displays their differences starkly. Johnson’s lifetime average is 39 and has been all over the board from 5 to 75, while Riser’s at 79 and never lower than 55 and Morris’ at 80 and never lower than 60 show they are clearly conservative/reform candidates while Johnson is of the liberal/populist variety.
Of course, Johnson will do everything he can to obscure that distinction to make him seem less liberal than he is. Still, the GOP and Riser and Morris campaigns would be expected to counter that, and the dynamics of off-year special elections are much in the disfavor of a Democrat – especially in an environment when it will be so easy to hang around any candidate with a “D” next to his name Obamacare, deficits, a miserable economic recovery, and growing corruption scandals such as the Internal Revenue Service’s increasingly transparent, White House wink-wink nod-nod approved, vendetta against conservative speech.
All of this makes Johnson a long shot – but only so long as Riser and Morris don’t let him off the hook in his attempt to make him seem something that he is not, especially as the black vote may end up divided between state Rep. Marcus Hunter and Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo. The danger for the two major Republican candidates is that they will pay too much attention to each other and allow Johnson to slip into the runoff. There, with a large if reduced portion overall of the black vote at his disposal, he might be able to attract just enough whites to win.
That’s his hope, at least, but even if he runs a perfect campaign, it won’t be enough for him to win. Only if Morris and Riser make the mistake of failing to expose him can he turn out to be the great white hope Democrats so eagerly seek.