Primary Night 2017 – Five Observations

In case you weren’t paying attention, and based on an election turnout figure of around 13 1/2 percent a whole lot of you weren’t, we had a primary election yesterday in Louisiana.

Seriously. We did. We had a primary race for Treasurer, which put a pair of candidates into a runoff, we elected a Public Service Commissioner, we had three constitutional amendments pass, there’s a runoff for mayor of New Orleans and two legislative seats were up for grabs. Not to mention a number of judicial races around the state and a few interesting local races.

And only about 13 1/2 percent of Louisiana 2.97 million registered voters bothered to show up.

With turnout so low, it’s hard to really even make any observations about what Saturday’s results mean. But we’ll try nevertheless.

1. Louisiana’s Voters Are Suckers For Stupid Constitutional Amendments

All three constitutional amendments on the ballot passed, which indicates the voters in this state simply do not put on their thinking caps before hitting those voting machines.

Amendment #1, which was the good amendment of the three, passed with 66 percent of the vote. It was an anti-tax amendment preventing local governments from slapping property taxes on construction sites, and it was obvious enough this needed to become law for there to be little question about its passage.

But Amendment #2, which was a complete sucker play of an amendment, passed with 67 percent. This thing put in the state constitution an exemption from property tax for surviving spouses of cops, firemen, EMT’s and other first-responder types who die on the job. Putting such a provision in the state constitution was just plain dumb; if there is a local government which wouldn’t put it in an ordinance we’d like to see it, and in any event aren’t expenses like property taxes what life insurance is for?

Then there was Amendment #3, which sought to dump even more of the state’s money into dedicated funds – something Louisiana’s voters have an exceptionally bad habit of. This forces all new gas taxes into a road construction fund, which sounds fine but since money is fungible will only mean that the money going into roads from the state general fund will shrink in the case of a tight budget and no net increase will result. Amendment #3 only passed with 53 percent of the vote, an indication the voters were a slight bit awake on the issue.

But we’ve been saying for a long time that elections are not won on policy in Louisiana. These results indicate why – Louisiana’s voters are generally pretty clueless about policy. That’s largely due to the state’s tradition of political showmanship, a tremendous amount of learned cynicism on the part of the voters as to the efficacy of policymaking to solve problems, meaning voters who don’t think anything will work don’t bother to study specific policies on their own merits, and a state media which is almost maliciously incompetent in drilling down on policy issues. The result, as we saw last night, is the voters will whiff at least two out of three times on relatively easy policy choices when those are presented to us.

2. BOLD, LIFE, SOUL And The Other New Orleans Democrat Street Money Organizations Are Thieves

Based on his disappointing fourth-place showing with just 18 percent of the vote, it’s probably not a matter of any great concern to the state’s voters that Neil Riser got mugged last night by the Democrat political fixers he attempted to ally himself with, and to a lot of the state’s conservatives there is probably a sentiment that Riser got what he deserved.

For our part, though we didn’t make an endorsement in the Treasurer’s race because the three Republicans vying for a spot in the runoff were all supportable, we feel for Riser. He’s been one of the best and most conservative members of a Louisiana Senate which in general has been atrocious through the years, and it’s really too bad that in a couple of attempts at higher office – a special election for Congress in 2013 and now the Treasurer’s race – things have gone this poorly. Neil is a good guy who seemingly has had all the breaks go against him.

Which isn’t to say there weren’t reasons for voters not to go his way Saturday. Riser was the author of the infamous “Edmonson Amendment,” which amounted to a sneaky showering of retirement-money windfall for the state police commander who has since resigned in disgrace, and while the sad reality of the state senate is you can’t get anything done unless you’re on good terms with that body’s president John Alario it’s fairly clear the latter is political poison among voters statewide – so Riser being tied with Alario in this race, whether unfairly or not, hung a sizable albatross around his neck.

OK, fine. But here’s a number which is very perplexing – Neil Riser only got 12 percent of the vote in Orleans Parish.

That 12 percent tied him with John Schroder, who is moving on to the runoff with the Democrat Derrick Edwards (who picked up 62 percent of the Orleans vote), and it beat Angele Davis’ 9 percent. But Riser was not supposed to only get 12 percent in Orleans. He was supposed to get a whole lot more than that.

After paying a whole lot of money to be on those pay-for-play ballots that BOLD, LIFE and SOUL and the other Democrat organizations in New Orleans distribute, Riser getting 12 percent means he was flat-out robbed by those people. Riser spent $15,000 on the BOLD ballot alone, after all.

No Republican should ever give those people a penny again. Not after the way they took John Georges (who wasn’t even running as a Republican at the time), Billy Nungesser (in 2011) and Riser to the cleaners.

Riser’s strategy to chase Democrat votes in New Orleans probably wasn’t all that bad an idea. The Democrats refused to give Edwards an endorsement, so it would have seemed some of those votes were available, and Orleans Parish was going to be an outsized share of the statewide vote (some 74,000 of the 405,000 votes cast Saturday were in Orleans, which is 18 percent – Orleans has only about 8 1/2 percent of the state’s registered voters). But we now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that going to the street-money people in Orleans Parish and trying to buy votes from them is simply a fool’s errand.

So much so that it’s worth asking if the refusal to endorse Edwards was a dirty trick aimed at getting some sucker of a Republican to come along and pay for BOLD, LIFE, SOUL and the others to put out their ballots when everybody knew those votes were going to Edwards anyway. If the Democrats suddenly make that endorsement and Edwards’ coffers fill up with union and trial lawyer money for the runoff, that perception will probably only get stronger.

3. Lionel Rainey Is Looking Like Louisiana’s Next Big Thing As A Political Consultant

Rainey, who first truly came to the fore as a spokesman for the St. George incorporation petition effort in 2014 and 2015 and later was involved in a pair of near-miss state legislative races (Buddy Amoroso in the spring of 2015, Ryan Heck in the fall of that year), and did PAC work for Bodi White’s mayoral campaign last year, has made a transition of sorts into a consultant of choice for winning candidates. That started when Rainey was on John Kennedy’s team in 2016 as the latter won big in the Senate race that year, and it has really busted loose in this cycle. Not only is Rainey’s Treasurer candidate John Schroder in the runoff with Edwards and a virtual certainty to win (Schroder only trailed Edwards 31-24 in the primary, and he’s going to get pretty much all of the 40 percent of the vote Riser and Davis pulled in on Saturday), his Public Service Commission candidate Craig Greene won outright with 55 percent of the vote against a pair of relatively well-known former state legislators in Lenar Whitney and Damon Baldone.

Having a Senator and a statewide elected official winning in successive years is pretty heady stuff. Rainey seems to be on a bit of a roll at present. These things have a way of not lasting and, truth be told, success usually has a lot more to do with the candidate than the consultant, but if nothing else Rainey’s picking good clients to work for and that’s half the game.

4. Desiree Charbonnet Is Going To Be New Orleans’ Next Mayor, And She Needs To Be

There isn’t a savior for New Orleans among the 18 mayoral hopefuls on Saturday’s ballot, but among the three major candidates there was one who really, really doesn’t need to be its mayor. That would be LaToya Cantrell, whose Hard Left social justice warriorism would do to the Big Easy what Stephanie Rawlings Blake has done for Baltimore. Cantrell has made a show of a harder line on crime than current mayor Mitch Landrieu, but there isn’t much reason to believe she’s serious about that and otherwise, her agenda is purely redistributive. Cantrell would run whatever business is still in New Orleans right out of that city.

Charbonnet is no free marketeer, but what she represents is a good bit more mainstream than Cantrell. What you probably get with Charbonnet is something that looks a little like Marc Morial’s time in the city – some old-school corruption here and there which can hopefully be cleaned up by the presence of a soon-to-be-appointed U.S. Attorney in New Orleans, but at least some pleasant noises made toward economic development, a real effort made at tamping down all the racial animus which blew up over the monuments issue and a commitment to doing the grunt work of local government like fixing potholes, draining rainwater and fighting crime rather than wasting time talking about Donald Trump, global warming or Obamacare the way Landrieu has.

You may not get those things with Charbonnet. She might turn out to be an incompetent, corrupt disaster. But at least there’s a chance she won’t be such a disaster – with Cantrell it’s a certainly you’ll get Bill DeBlasio in a skirt.

Michael Bagneris and Troy Henry, who combined for 25 percent of the vote, represented something similar to Charbonnet in the primary. It’s likely their votes will go her way in the runoff, and, combined with her 30 percent, put her in position to win. Cantrell’s impressive 39 percent showing on Saturday isn’t necessarily a high water mark, but with what’s out there she’s going to struggle to get to 50 without turning out a lot of voters who didn’t show up in the primary. Turnout in Orleans Parish Saturday was 32 percent.

5. Jefferson Parish Politics Might Finally Be Climbing Out Of Its Post-Carlos Marcello Funk

One of the things which has always been peculiar to note is the failure of Jefferson Parish, the relatively well-off suburban behemoth next door to New Orleans, to fulfill its potential as the economic and political driver of the state’s largest metropolitan area. Jefferson is now bigger than Orleans in population and the size of its voter base, and it’s considerably richer in per-capita income. But while compared to Orleans Jefferson has done well, compared to other suburban jurisdictions like Gwinnett, Cobb or DeKalb Counties outside of Atlanta or Collin or Rockwall Counties outside of Dallas, it’s not very successful. Moreover, Jefferson has been losing ground to St. Tammany Parish for 20 years or more, and it’s not just because there’s more available land in St. Tammany.

Part – if not all – of the problem has been that Jefferson’s politics has been scummier even than Orleans Parish’s horror show.

Decades ago Jefferson was all but completely controlled by the mob, in the person of Mafia Kingfish Carlos Marcello, who had New Orleans-area residents so terrified of him that to utter his name in public was a bit of a social faux pas. Marcello had two generations of local pols in Jefferson largely on the arm, and there was a sizable graft engine in place. Marcello died in 1993, but that graft engine lingered – and the politicians in Jefferson made nothing like a clean break in how business was done.

The names of these people, everybody knows. The old school cabal is largely out of office, but not out of influence – at least until recently.

Saturday, state senator Danny Martiny – who was Newell Normand’s lawyer when the latter was sheriff in Jefferson, and who is a pet of John Alario’s in the Senate – got throttled in a bid for a seat on the Jefferson Parish Council by Dominick Impastato. The final number was 57-43 in Impastato’s favor, despite a race that was one of the most brutal in the state. Impastato’s orientation is opposite Martiny’s; he’s not a Normand/Alario guy, and while all of these people are registered as Republicans Impastato wasn’t a Democrat five minutes ago, nor did he endorse John Bel Edwards for governor in 2015.

The Normand/Alario clique spent a lot of time trying to tie Impastato to Jefferson’s, er, troubled Parish President Mike Yenni, who somehow seems to have survived a scandal surrounding his inappropriate relationship with a young male campaign volunteer, but that didn’t fly Saturday. But even if it had, one could make the case that the voters in Jefferson would rather go with Yenni than with the Normand/Alario gang; there are folks in the know in Jefferson who will tell you that Normand’s hand-picked successor Joe Lopinto, currently serving as the interim sheriff, is dead in the water for re-election at the next cycle.

With Martiny gone from politics when his Senate term ends in 2019, with Alario also termed out in the Senate and if Lopinto does lose, that will be more or less the end of the Jefferson machine. Maybe decent governance in Jefferson might follow. Maybe.

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