What’s below is from John Schroder, who may or may not be the Republican who makes the runoff against Derrick Edwards in the state treasurer’s primary next month – assuming there is one. What we’re nervous about is the projection that turnout in Orleans Parish might be as high as 50 percent while statewide it could be as low as 15 percent, and if that’s actually what happens a scenario presents itself where Edwards, a black Democrat from New Orleans, could conceivably hit 50 percent in the primary and sneak off with a victory no one expected.
We’ll touch on that below. In the meantime, this is a clip from the candidate forum held by the Baton Rouge Press Club yesterday in which Schroder was pigeonholed on the question, irrelevant to the job of Treasurer by the way, of whether he would support increased taxes for roadbuilding in Louisiana. His answer is something he’s said before, but we thought it was worth trotting out and discussing…
Thanks to Robert Burns of Sound Off Louisiana for that clip.
A couple of things about the question and the answer are worth kicking around. First, the question is typical of Louisiana’s abysmal press, which is absolutely shameless in its constant advocacy of higher taxes to fund wasteful government, and it’s clear the questioner – who looks a bit like the Advocate’s Lanny Keller but is not, as we’re told Keller wasn’t there Monday – is attempting to get Schroder to admit that he’s not for a tax increase and he’s also not for good roads.
Never mind, of course, the fact that we have some experience in how efficient the state Department of Transportation and Development is in actually converting tax dollars into roads…and that experience is, to put it mildly, unsatisfactory. No one from the Gas Tax Mafia has ever bothered to address that experience, which has driven rather intense public sentiment against any new taxes – it drove a humiliating defeat for Baton Rouge mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome earlier this month when the Metro Council killed a $500 million property tax hike to build roads in East Baton Rouge Parish – no matter what purpose is advertised for the money. The Baton Rouge defeat was a slightly different kettle of fish than the implosion of the gas tax during this year’s legislative session, as that money would have gone to the parish transportation department instead of DOTD, but the sentiment is the same. Namely, they’re wasting the money we already give them and it’s time for reprioritization and belt-tightening within government in Louisiana to generate more bang for the buck, and until these people can show us some of that we’re not parting with a red cent more.
Schroder’s response to the question contains a little bit of the irritation most voters have with this constant demand for more public sector dollars, but he zeroes in on something specific – namely, that one reason the road money never seems to address the deficiency of the roads is that it’s used as bait for legislative votes. If the governor can veto infrastructure projects from legislators who don’t vote his way, then why should we play along and appropriate more money for infrastructure to be doled out from the state capitol?
John Bel Edwards is the current offender in this regard, but this isn’t a partisan discussion. They’ve all done it. And Schroder’s point is spot on – for the parishes where there is economic and population growth leading to the most pressing highway construction needs, using the governor and DOTD as a middle man to dole out the funding for roads is foolish. St. Tammany Parish can raise plenty enough tax money to handle its own infrastructure needs without having to swallow whatever of John Bel Edwards’ policies its representatives would have to vote for in order to get the shovels digging, so why would he support a statewide gas tax hike rather than letting St. Tammany voters OK a local one at the ballot?
This is actually a topic we’re going to be discussing in a future 20 for 2020 post, as part of the series we announced earlier today would be coming this fall.
Now – understand that while this is a quite substantive discussion and we’re pleased Schroder brought it to light, it has nothing to do with what the Treasurer actually does in Louisiana. He sits on the State Bond Commission, which sometimes will see various bits of infrastructure come through its window, but as to the state policy on which roads are funded and prioritized that’s done well away from the treasurer’s office.
So Schroder, Neil Riser, Angele Davis and Derrick Edwards are having a hell of a time getting anybody to pay attention to their race for the simple reason that the treasurer doesn’t do anything interesting in Louisiana. Riser is talking about guns, Davis is talking about Trump, and so on – and while Schroder’s argument is a good one, he might actually be making himself less relevant to gaining a solution by running for treasurer than he would have been if he’d stayed in his House seat where he could have pushed legislation to change the crooked capital outlay process he decries.
And because the treasurer’s race is like something out of Seinfeld – a show about nothing – there is a real danger the voters will respond based on pure identity politics. And here’s where the math gets a little scary.
Let’s say voter turnout is 50 percent in Orleans Parish and 15 percent everywhere else in the state.
Orleans has 257,000 registered voters, some 146,000 of whom are black. With the top four candidates in the New Orleans mayor’s race all being black, it’s likely that black turnout in Orleans for the primary next month would indicate a more heavily black electoral model than the registration stats indicate. Let’s say the black vote outperforms the white vote on a 50 percent turnout by, say, 10 percent. That would make the electorate 67 percent black rather than 57 percent black. And despite the efforts of Riser and Davis to attract black voters, which despite having been tried by white Republicans over and over in previous races has never worked, let’s say Edwards still manages to get 60 percent of the vote in Orleans.
What does he need to get if the rest of the state is at 15 percent turnout? Well, there are 2.974 million registered voters in the state – 2.717 million outside of Orleans Parish. Fifteen percent of 2.717 million is 408,000 voters. Add half of Orleans’ 257,000 into that mix and you’re looking at about 534,000 votes total.
Edwards starts with 77,000 votes under our scenario and needs 190,000 more, out of 408,000, to hit 50 percent and win outright. That would mean he needs 46 percent of the non-New Orleans vote.
What percentage of the registered electorate outside of Orleans Parish is black? That would be 29 percent. In a normal statewide election those numbers don’t work for an Edwards whose only appeal is to black voters. But if the word gets around that there’s a black Democrat with an actual chance to win, and nobody else is turning out to vote in an election for a statewide official who doesn’t do anything compelling, then you could conceivably have that 29 percent rising to a bit higher figure as a share of the electorate – particularly if outside of New Orleans the turnout is only 15 percent. What if the black vote is 40 percent of that 15? What if the 15 turns out to be even less, and New Orleans is an even larger share of the statewide vote? What if the statewide turnout is 15 percent even with Orleans turning out at 50?
If you’re a Republican, this situation is just plausible enough to generate a bit of worry that Edwards shocks everybody and gets to 50 percent plus one. Particularly given the lack of any real evidence the voters care.
Schroder has TV and radio spots going up around the state, so he’s at least going down fighting if he’s not going to force, and make, a runoff. It’s expected Riser and Davis will be on the tube as well. Edwards, who has all of $666 in his campaign account as of the last disclosure, isn’t going to be on TV.