Believe this or not, Louisiana’s conservative political leadership might be learning how to make a majority count.
By fits and starts, of course. It’s still quite clear the state’s Republican Party is a long way off from understanding the full scope of how to consolidate the power the voters have given it, and it’s much more true that voters have decided to reject the Democrats in this state than embrace the Republicans. We know this because were it not for the party-switchers there would still be Democrat majorities in the legislature, or pretty close to them, and we also know it because the fastest-growing party affiliation among Louisiana voters isn’t Republican, it’s independent.
What that means is at some point Democrats are likely to make a comeback, and because of that it’s not good enough to light a cigar and have a beer over the fact Republicans get to run things for the time being. At the end of the Jindal administration, what we’re coming to is a realization that simply trying to take over a left/socialist structure and run it better isn’t good enough to succeed.
Jindal has done some good things and he’s made some reforms which will resonate on a large scale over time. The school choice innovations he’s instituted will lead to a market in education in Louisiana that will lead large numbers of people out of ignorance and off the Democrat plantation. And his privatization of the Charity Hospitals was needed; it took hundreds of millions of dollars off the books.
But Jindal was not able, and those around him haven’t been able, to significantly affect two things previous Democrat leadership was good at. Namely culture and process.
Huey Long created modern Louisiana political culture. He built the state capitol and insured by law that it would be the tallest building in Louisiana. He more or less created the common political practice of bombastically skewering political opponents with locker-room insults, he created the disdain for governmental limits and appreciation for Byzantine legal workarounds Louisiana is famous for, and he created the culture of graft and corruption low-information voters in the state often shrug off as the price of doing business.
And along with that culture, Long and his successors – most notably his brother Earl and Edwin Edwards – built a political structure and process aimed at consolidating political power among the populist/socialist coalition in the state. It’s not a surprise that the state has been serving as the bill collector for public sector unions in Louisiana, for example, and it’s not some accident that Louisiana runs on a jungle primary system (which has been fraught with unintended consequences for the Longite crowd, of course). It’s also no surprise, though it’s as much a function of culture as it is process, that the state constitution is set up so that it’s always easier to raise taxes than to cut spending in order to balance the budget.
Democrats have always been very good at culture and process. That’s a function of the fact their talented people populate cultural institutions and the legal profession, and it’s also a vehicle by which they can insulate themselves from the consequences of their failure to govern – at least for a while.
Republicans and conservatives don’t understand culture and process. They’re a lot better on policy. They’ll win policy arguments all day long and lose on the politics – because in a culture created by the Left they’re going to be castigated and demonized as haters and bigots and knuckle-dragging cavemen.
There is little evidence Louisiana’s Republicans are making inroads into the culture, though some – Jeff Landry being an example – have learned how to appropriate elements of the Longite political style for their own use.
But perhaps the process is not out of reach.
The Paycheck Protection bill is a good example. Finally getting that bill out of committee, and passing it on the House floor (most people think if the bill makes it to the Senate it’s home free) is the kind of move on the political process that makes real change in how elections will work and how the state is governed over the long term. Right now the public employee unions – most notably AFSCME, SEIU and the teacher unions – have the state collecting dues for them and turn around and write big checks to Democrat political campaigns and causes. That means Democrats don’t have to do a lot of grassroots fundraising, and they don’t have to do a lot of work winning over voters one by one. They collect money and votes in blocs, and at least where the money is concerned a lot of it emanates from people who aren’t even asked for help.
It was interesting yesterday that the prime opponent of HB 418 in committee was Rep. Marcus Hunter, a Democrat from Monroe who clogged up the end of the hearing by filing pointless amendments he knew he didn’t have the votes for. Hunter made a big show, when he wasn’t denying that he was grandstanding, of pandering to the union representatives in the committee room and telling them to pay attention to who was fighting for them. He also made a big show of promoting “transparency,” without disclosing the fact that last year, when he wasn’t even up for election of any kind, he took $1500 from the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.
If and when the bill passes, union membership in Louisiana will decline. The union representatives were clear about that without saying it yesterday. They made argument after argument about how ending the practice of the state acting as their bill collector somehow robs teachers or cops or firemen of their “freedom” and accused the bill’s proponents of “union-busting.” No one could credibly answer Rep. Alan Seabaugh’s question what was so burdensome about having union members sign a one-page bank draft form or fill out a credit card authorization on the union’s website; largely because the real answer is they know when their members are faced with an actual choice whether to continue as part of the union a lot of them will abandon that membership – or if nothing else they’ll become more interested in how the money is spent. They know that in other states where the unions can’t depend on the state acting as their back office, their membership has collapsed and their political power has gone with it. So has that of the politicians they control.
That’s process. Control the process, you shape the possibilities.
That Paycheck Protection is finally moving shows there are Republicans who are beginning to understand the value of controlling the process. Such an understanding could lead to a much bolder legislative agenda in the future.