BAYHAM: Observations About The 2017 State And City Elections

Nobody really cared about the office of treasurer and only a few more in Orleans Parish cared about who runs the city that care forgot. As elections go, Saturday was like a party without guests.

Turnout was an anemic 13.5%, which was 1.5% lower than the 15% that Secretary of State Tom Schedler had predicted for the October 2017 statewide special elections.

Yet despite the mass apathy, there were some lessons to be drawn and applied from the races.

Never Hold Another Statewide Special Election  It cost Louisiana taxpayers $6 million to conduct a statewide election for treasurer- arguably wasting the very funds the treasurer manages. While I don’t have a problem spending money on elections and believe the cost cutting moves of Colorado, Oregon, and Washington State endanger democracy by creating too many opportunities for vote fraud, this one could have waited until next year when we hold our congressional elections.  Legislation should be drawn up to allow the first assistant or deputy treasurer to assume the office in the event of a vacancy until the next regularly scheduled statewide election or congressional election. The only winners in this endeavor were political consultants and TV stations who profited from campaign advertising.

All About the Benjamins  Speaking of the treasurer’s election, former St. Tammany Parish legislator John Schroeder led the GOP field in both votes and spending, going through over a half million dollars on the way to the runoff.  Schroeder’s financial commitment to the race gave him a distinct advantage over his Republican rivals and it proved to be decisive edging past Angelle Davis for a spot in the November runoff by less than 10,000 votes.

Just Showing Up  The candidate who ran first was Derrick Edwards, who did not file a campaign finance report despite having expensive full color signs posted all over the state and running television advertisements. Edwards benefited from two things: being the lone Democrat on the ballot and a New Orleans mayoral election that drove up participation by voters who simply voted for the Democrat without considering his qualifications.  Just being a Democrat was enough for 31% of the voters who showed, demonstrating the power of the party brand in some corners.

Missed Opportunity I’ve written at length on this subject after qualifying but once again I am amazed the state Democratic Party did not field a credible candidate in the race. If Derrick Edwards could get 31%, how much more support would have been there for someone who holds an office and has the wherewithal to raise money to be competitive in a state election? With legislative term limits bringing the political careers of quite a few Democrats to a close, it’s a wonder why the state party did not make a point of recruiting someone to at least show the flag and take some of the heat off of John Bel Edwards’s reelection in 2019.

Ticket Punched  Sensing that New Orleans would be casting a disproportionate share of the statewide vote because of the open mayoral spot, Republican State Senator Neil Riser made a gambit to get a share of that vote.  Riser was listed on the ballots of numerous city political organizations and yard signs though the move yielded disappointing dividends. Derrick Edwards scored 62% of the vote without making any real investment while Riser ran a distant second with 12.3%.  In addition to what he garnered, Riser would have needed a little over half of Edwards’s Nola vote to pass Schroeder for the second spot in the runoff.  Having a name and number on the ballot is not enough as the recipients simply voted Democrat for treasurer, underscoring that the city ballots don’t have the same influence they did pre-Katrina.

Can a North Louisiana Candidate Win Anymore?  A Monroe area politician at Riser’s election night party doubted in exasperation whether someone from the northern part of Louisiana can win a statewide election anymore.  There was a time that to win a big office in Louisiana you had to hail from the north while residing in New Orleans was a scarlet letter.  Times have changed and populations have shifted.

In 1990 north Louisiana had half of the state’s eight members of Congress; now they have two, and that’s mainly due to then-Governor Bobby Jindal’s insistence on the matter.  The same region that produced Governors Huey Long, Earl Long, OK Allen, Bob Kennon, Jimmie Davis, John McKeithen, and Buddy Roemer cannot claim a single statewide official north of the I-10/US-190 corridor, ex-Attorney General Buddy Caldwell being the most recent.

No Paulette Irons Redux  One of the big stories going into the city elections was whether former judge Desiree Charbonnet was going to end up like Paulette Irons: leading most of the race and then collapsing at the end.  Charbonnet was subjected to a withering bombardment led by local entrepreneur Sidney Torres IV, who had explored his own bid for mayor.

However Charbonnet survived, ex-Judge and Dutch Morial ally Michael Bagneris did not catch on, and the Crescent City will have a runoff between two candidates vying to become New Orleans’ first female mayor. Though Charbonnet finished second with 30%, trailing LaToya Cantrell, who led the field with 39%.  Finishing first in a primary does not always translate to winning the runoff.  Businessman Donald Mintz led then-State Senator Marc Morial by almost 5 points in the mayoral primary in 1994 before losing in the general.  Expect a razor-thin finish for what is considered to be the second most important office in Louisiana.

Disclosure: I was actively involved with Neil Riser’s campaign.  This is the first time I am writing about the treasurer’s race since qualifying ended.

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