By WMD, we don’t quite mean weapons of mass destruction – though if you consider the effect Huey and Early Long, and Edwin and John Bel Edwards have had and are having on Louisiana’s development over the years you might be confused by that.
What we mean is White Male Democrats.
Not long ago, WMD’s were pretty exclusively the people in control in this state – whether it came to local sheriffs, district attorneys, parish presidents, state legislators or statewide officials. But gradually that has changed. Today there are a lot more Republicans holding office in places where white people make up the majority of the electorate, and seats Democrats can win are usually held by black Democrats more than the white version.
It’s true that for some reason white female Democrats have a lot more trouble getting elected than WMD’s do. We’re not sure why that is but the numbers bear that out. For the purposes of this discussion we’re going to focus on the state legislature, because short of the governor’s race which we’ll touch on in a little while it’s the legislature where this state’s future will be decided.
And the prognosis for the WMD’s is we aren’t likely to find much of a stockpile in Louisiana after this year.
Consider that as of today there are only 13 white Democrats in the Louisiana House of Representatives and five in the state Senate. That’s the lowest number of white Democrats in the state legislature since Reconstruction, and the trend is rapidly downward. Since the 2015 elections there have been a number of legislative seats formerly held by white Democrats which have turned over, most of them being won in special elections by Republicans. When WMD Jack Montoucet left the Legislature to take over the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, for example, his Crowley-area seat was won by Republican John Stefanski. When WMD Gene Reynolds of Minden left last year to take a job running the state parks, Republican Wayne McMahen replaced him (McMahen’s GOP credentials are anything but bona fide, as we’re told he had been a registered Democrat for most of his life and only recently switched – but the fact he did switch is, if nothing else, a recognition of the reality in District 10). And when WMD Mike Danahay left the legislature to become mayor of Sulphur, Republican Stuart Moss won last year’s special election to replace him. So Democrats are 0-for-3 in defending “white” House seats in special elections so far in this political cycle.
And there is another “white” House seat up for a special election next month; that being the District 18 seat in Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge Parishes formerly held by WMD Major Thibaut, who is now the parish president in Pointe Coupee. As we noted earlier this month that special election race looks an awful lot like a runoff between Republican Tammi Fabre and Democrat NaTashia Carter Benoit, who is black – there are three WMD’s running but it looks like they could well be squeezed out of the runoff given that the district is 37 percent black and 33 percent hard conservative (David Vitter got 33 percent of the vote in District 18 in the 2015 gubernatorial runoff). As District 18 voted 57 percent for Donald Trump and 58 percent for John Kennedy in the 2016 presidential election and 2016 Senate runoff, respectively, it’s a safe bet that Fabre would beat Benoit in the expected Feb. 23 runoff matchup for that seat.
So that’s from 17 white Democrats (15 of them WMD’s) in the House after the 2015 elections to potentially 13, without even a full electoral cycle.
And this fall it might well get worse. Of the 13 House seats held by white Democrats as of today, 11 of them held by WMD’s (the only two white Democrat women in the Louisiana House of Representatives are Dorothy Sue Hill, who is term-limited, and Malinda White), all but three become open seats this fall due to term limits.
And of those 11 term-limited seats, six of them represent districts in which Trump and Kennedy each claimed wide majorities of the 2016 vote.
For example, in James Armes’ District 30 (Leesville and DeRidder), Trump pulled 69 percent of the vote and Kennedy 70. Even David Vitter captured a majority, with 52 percent of the 2015 gubernatorial runoff vote. It’s a fair bet, without knowing yet what the field in the race to replace Armes will look like when qualifying opens in August, that the District 30 seat could go Republican.
Truck Gisclair’s District 54 (Larose, Cut Off, Galliano) is a heavily Republican-voting district represented by a Democrat…for now. Trump (85 percent), Kennedy (87 percent) and Vitter (63 percent) all won gigantic majorities in the most recent major statewide races there. It’s hard to imagine that seat not flipping red this fall.
Dorothy Sue Hill’s District 32 (DeQuincy, Oakdale) is similarly a heavily red district Hill managed to hang on to for the Democrats. Trump (80 percent), Kennedy (78 percent) and Vitter (54 percent) all won with substantial margins in District 32, and it’s also likely to see a flip – though Hill’s grandson is reportedly preparing a run for the seat.
Robert Johnson, the chair of the House Democrat delegation, represents District 28, which is centered in Avoyelles Parish. Johnson is one of the most outspoken left-leaners in the House, and he’s a poor match for a district which went 67 percent for Trump and 65 percent for Kennedy. Vitter’s poor 37 percent share of the district in the 2015 gubernatorial runoff gives some pause about how committedly red District 28 is, but it’s still quite fertile territory for a quality Republican candidate to win an open seat there.
Veteran Democrat legislator Sam Jones, whose District 50 is centered in and around Franklin south of Lafayette, has served as the legislative consigliere for John Bel Edwards. Jones seems relatively popular in his district, but so are Republicans running in statewide races – Trump pulled 58 percent of District 50 and Kennedy 68 percent, while Vitter managed 46 percent despite Jones stumping hard for his old legislative ally. It’s a decent bet this seat will also flip to the GOP with Jones gone due to term limits.
In District 38, which includes such locales as Ville Platte, Mamou and Port Barre, Bernard LeBas is termed out. It’s also a likely Republican pickup after Trump received 69 percent and Kennedy 68. Once again Vitter underperformed there, but still received 47 percent of the 2015 gubernatorial runoff vote.
The other termed-out Democrat-held House seats seem safer. Kennedy’s 25 percent showing was the best a Republican has done in Neil Abramson’s Uptown New Orleans-based District 98 in recent years, while Republicans don’t seem to be able to get better than 34 percent in Robert Billiot’s District 83 in Jefferson Parish’s West Bank (which is 59 percent black, though, and it’s a decent bet a Democrat of African-American persuasion might win that seat with Billiot being termed out). In District 21 (Lake Providence to Ferriday and Vidalia along the Mississippi), where Andy Anders is now termed out, the electorate is 58 percent black and could well reject a WMD; Kennedy pulled 44 percent of the vote there and Trump pulled 41. What’s probably most likely, though, is that termed-out state senator Francis Thompson will run for this seat, which he formerly held before being term limited out of it, and be the favorite to retake it. And Walt Leger’s District 91 in Uptown New Orleans is reliably WMD; Kennedy’s 12 percent of the vote is the best a Republican statewide candidate has done in recent years. Those districts all look like holds for the Democrats, though Billiot and, less likely, Anders might well have black replacements taking office next year.
There are also some non-term limited seats where white Democrats are in jeopardy.
Robby Carter’s District 72 (northern Tangipahoa Parish) is probably not such a seat, though if a black Democrat were to challenge Carter things might get interesting. District 72, which is Edwards’ old House seat, is 59 percent black. That district is known for widespread vote-hauling and other corrupt practices and Carter is known as a reliable practitioner of them according to local observers; whether he’s challenged by another Democrat is an interesting question. A Republican has no chance to win there – Trump got just 35 percent and Kennedy 39 in 2016 and Vitter pulled only 19 percent against Edwards in 2015.
But in the District 60 seat held by Chad Brown (Assumption and Iberville Parishes), Trump received 54 percent and Kennedy 55 in 2016. The key to knocking Brown out of his seat probably lies in setting up the field a lot like the District 18 special election – you need a black Democrat to run, and therefore soak up the 37 percent of the vote which is African-American, and then have a Republican in the race to soak up the 33 percent hard-GOP vote (that’s the share of the vote Vitter received in the 2015 runoff). Get that field and Brown might well find himself squeezed out of the runoff.
Perhaps the best opportunity to flip a Democrat-held seat by beating a Democrat incumbent is in District 75, centered in Bogalusa and Franklinton. The incumbent there, Malinda White, is a WFD rather than a WMD, and to put it kindly she’s not popular among her peers given a three-year history of bizarre and inappropriate behavior. We’re told that has extended into a few experiences not just at the Capitol but in her district, and if that’s true she might well be vulnerable to a frontal assault by a GOP challenger. After all, District 75 went 69 percent for Kennedy and 64 percent for Trump in 2016, and despite the proximity to Edwards’ home District 72 just to the west Vitter only lost in District 75 55-45 in the gubernatorial runoff. She’s very beatable.
In a true worst-case scenario for the WMD’s and white Democrats overall, when the new legislature is inaugurated in January of next year there might only be three WMD’s left in the House and no WFD’s. It’s more likely the total number of white Democrats will be five or six, but that’s barely a third of their number at the end of the 2015 elections.
It’s no better in the Senate. Currently there are only five WMD’s left, and two – Thompson and Eric Lafleur – are gone thanks to term limits.
Thompson’s seat, which starts on the east side of Monroe and runs east to the Mississippi River, where it spreads north to the Arkansas state line and south to Ferriday, is almost assuredly going to be taken by Katrina Jackson this fall. The district, Senate District 34, is 67 percent black and would have been represented by an African-American legislator some time ago but for Thompson’s political clout. Republicans don’t have much of an opportunity to win there – Trump got 30 percent of the District 34 vote; Kennedy got 34.
But Lafleur’s seat looks like a flip for the GOP. The party has a candidate at the ready in Turkey Creek mayor Heather Cloud, who made a goodly number of friends and positioned herself as a known commodity during a run for Secretary of State last year, and though she only finished with four percent of the vote she enters the race with some seasoning and a decent war chest left over from last year’s race. Cloud’s opponent could well be LeBas, who has more experience running legislative races, but the voters in District 28 are pretty right-leaning – as Trump’s 70 percent and Kennedy’s 68 percent would attest. Vitter should have pulled more than 46 percent of that district in 2015.
That leaves three Senate districts held by WMD’s, but even those aren’t safe.
Jay Luneau represents District 29, which starts in Grambling and part of Ruston and meanders south through Pineville and Alexandria. That’s most certainly not a Republican district – Trump only pulled 37 percent and Kennedy 38. But it’s not much of a WMD district either – it’s 57 percent black. By all rights if a black Democrat should get into a race with Luneau he would have a lot of trouble holding the seat, and given his horrific voting record the third of the district which is made up of conservative voters might very well give a black Democrat a chance to do a little better. Luneau is regarded as one of the more obnoxious Democrats in the legislature and few would miss him should he be gone.
John Milkovich doesn’t have an overly obnoxious voting record from a conservative standpoint, and lots of people in his Shreveport-centered District 38 will attest that he’s the most conservative Democrat in the legislature (which might be true now that Danahay and Thibaut aren’t in the House anymore). Still, there is a sense that a quality Republican candidate might just be able to take Milkovich down in a district Trump won with 57 percent and Kennedy with 60 in 2016. He’ll have lots of money for re-election, though Milkovich is a bit like White in the House – something of a loose cannon capable of political suicide. His performance in a committee hearing last year attempting to bring a bill limiting the power of the state’s medical examiners has become stuff of legend; one of these days we’ll have to clip that video and post it here at The Hayride for posterity.
Which leaves District 19’s Gary Smith, who could conceivably be the only remaining WMD in the Senate by January. Smith has been rumored as a potential party flip to the GOP for years, though his voting record would certainly mark him as a RINO – Smith’s LABI score was 44 in 2018, 51 in 2017 and 41 in 2016 after averaging a 72 for the 2012-2015 legislative term. He’s got a lot of money and is considered very difficult to beat, but District 19 (LaPlace, Destrehan, Luling, Raceland) is certainly Republican-friendly territory. It voted 56 percent for Trump and 60 percent for Kennedy in 2016.
What does all of this mean? Let’s remember the growing trend that showed itself unmistakably in the 2018 Secretary of State race – namely, that black voters are less and less likely to vote for white Democrats. Renee Fontenot Free was the party’s establishment choice for that position last year, and she was considered a relatively decent bet to win – at least by modern Democrat standards. But Free was taken down in the primary by black Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup, an unknown from East Feliciana Parish with no money and no real experience relevant to the position. It was more or less solely identity politics which enabled Collins-Greenup to walk away with 20 percent of the primary vote to Free’s 16, taking her out of the runoff and giving GOP incumbent Kyle Ardoin a fairly easy road to election.
If black voters are no longer interested in voting for WMD’s, or WFD’s for that matter, then as a rule any district with a black majority is going to have a black Democrat representing it – and barring something unusual any district with a white majority is going to have a white Republican. There are reasons for this, perhaps most prominently the cultural chaos emanating from the Left nationally which simply does not play with Louisiana voters who aren’t interested in attacks on religion, the promotion of “innovations” like transgenderism, the bowdlerizing of American history and some of the other highlights of the modern-day culture wars. So long as the Democrat Party is tainted with those, increasingly the only seats they’ll be able to win in Louisiana are the ones where demographics and identity politics can combine to fix the outcome before the race even begins.
And yes, the way legislative districts are drawn up, which for the last two redistricting cycles has generally been a function of Republicans and black Democrats teaming up to create districts increasingly hostile to white Democrats, has much to do with the decline of WMD’s and the failure-to-launch of WFD’s. But that’s not going to change any time soon, especially given the collapse in voter registration among white Democrats. In the most recent release of registration statistics by the Secretary of State’s office on Jan. 1, there were only 514,767 white Democrats registered out of 1,287,153 total Democrat voters – just 40 percent. By contrast, there were 726,513 black Democrats registered. And of white voters in the state, the Democrat figure represents just 27 percent of the 1,909,596 registered whites – 45 percent (862,942) are Republicans and 28 percent (531,887) are independents. When you consider there were 1.1 million white Democrats registered in Louisiana just 11 years ago, what you begin to recognize is the decline of WMD politicians is just a symptom of the party’s rapid decline in the state.
So what does this augur where Edwards is concerned this fall? Nothing dispositive – it means he’s eminently beatable, but legislative district fundamentals were terrible for him four years ago and he managed to win anyway. Edwards is an incumbent and so it will take a concerted, competent effort to knock him out of the Governor’s Mansion – but he’s fighting the arc of history, so to speak, and even if he wins re-election the current trends indicate he could well be the last of the WMD’s in Louisiana’s top political job.
In a future post we might expand on the further deleterious effects on WMD’s should Republicans and black Democrats agree to bring back party primaries in Louisiana in this year’s or next year’s legislative sessions. Once that happens there will only be a handful of legislative districts where it’s even possible for a white Democrat to win.