Even if Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ uncertain reelection chances come to fruition, he seems set to face a Legislature and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education if anything more hostile to his agenda in the next four years.
Qualifying for this fall’s elections for these offices closed last week, and put Edwards behind the eight ball immediately. Unless some very unanticipated things transpire, he’ll repeat facing Republican majorities in both legislative chambers. In the House, 56 seats either have all Republicans running or Republican incumbents facing single opponents; in the Senate, that number is 20. That means before an expected gubernatorial runoff Republicans already will have secured majorities, and then in runoff races they’ll add more.
The Hayride’s MacAoidh, using vote for GOP Pres. Donald Trump in 2016, sees supermajorities of 70 and 26 seats within reach for Republicans. Using that metric is a bit tricky, because of Louisiana’s culture of personalistic politics that devalues ideology which detaches state- and local-level politics, often evaluated on the basis of candidate personality, from national politics seen more through an ideological lens. In other words, Republican proportion of the vote in those districts will trail the 2016 numbers. More likely, Republicans will add a few House seats to get in the range of above 65, while in the Senate they probably can add at least one to hit 26.
Somewhat more importantly, the Senate should act much less malleably to Edwards’ entreaties. It won’t have the political chameleon GOP state Sen. John Alario running things as its president, who allied himself with Edwards. Almost certainly the next president will adhere more faithfully to conservatism, and put Republican majorities and chairman onto most, if not all, committees, and certainly the important ones.
The chamber itself also should have a more conservative hue. Of the seven most squishy Republicans – those who defected to Edwards on big issues – four like Alario couldn’t run again due to term limits. Another here or there could be knocked off by more conservative challengers. While a couple of House Republicans sympathetic to Edwards look set to continue their careers in the Senate, they won’t make up for that gap. And, perhaps going without saying, the House will remain solidly in opposition to Edwards’ agenda as occurred these past four years.
Worse, Edwards won’t find solace in BESE policy-making. In 2015, he ran on reversing education reforms backed by former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, and even those going back some two decades. Those include financial assistance to parents who choose the send their children to private schools, rules facilitating charter school formation and operation, and more stringent standards in evaluating schools and teachers.
However, the BESE that ended up produced six solid votes for reform. Only the 8th District’s Democrat Jada Lewis typically opposed reform sentiments, often joined by the 6th District’s Republican Kathy Edmonston, meaning almost always with Edwards’ three anti-reform appointees they couldn’t muster a majority. Like the Legislature, they thwarted almost all efforts from him to undo recent past policy, and BESE refused Edwards’ entreaties to dump Superintendent John White, an ardent backer of reform.
In bad news for anti-reformers, both Lewis and Edmonston declined to run for another term. Five of the six reformers have signed to run again, and the four who drew opponents should win easily given the nature of their opposition (which includes a multiple failed retread and a fired principal from a failed school, among others). Only the 5th District’s Republican Gary Jones didn’t, drawing two newcomers neither of whom indicate they have an appetite to reverse reforms.
The other two districts will see classic reformer vs. anti-reformer tilts. In the 8th, veteran East Baton Rouge School Board member Democrat Vereta Lee likely will make the runoff against either democrat lawyer Preston Castille or Democrat charter school executive Chakesha Webb Scott. Lee has made a career of trying to stop reform. In the 6th, this could come down to a matchup among Republican executive Ronnie Morris, who serves on a charter school board and nonprofit geared towards education, Democrat teacher and self-avowed community organizer Ciara Hart, and Republican Gregory Spiers, who is backed by Edmonston and anti-reformer GOP state Rep. Rogers Pope (term-limited, but hoping to slide into the Senate) and stumps for rollback of certain reforms.
Regardless, anti-reformers will have to have a great run in order to take a majority, which also banks on an Edwards reelection. More likely, reformers will expand their footprint.
So, should Edwards manage to sneak back in, he seems unlikely to promulgate more than even the little of his agenda he managed to push through in the past four years.