Louisiana’s Legislature Is A Rotten Choice To Run The State GOP

Earlier this week the news hit that Lance Harris, fresh off a savage beating in the December runoff of the 2020 election for the 5th District congressional race at the hands of Luke Letlow, is now running for chairman of the Louisiana GOP.

We’re not sure how Harris arrived at his decision to run for party chair. It’s a pretty good bet the answer had to do with encouragement by his political consultant. After all, having a client as chair of the Party likely means you can hit him up for contracts to do work for the state GOP, and so it’s something of a plum race to put a candidate into.

The election for the party’s chairmanship takes place on Saturday. As of right now it’s a race between Harris and current chairman Louis Gurvich, with a term lasting until next summer as the stakes.

Harris essentially replaces Eddie Rispone, the 2019 GOP gubernatorial candidate who lost to John Bel Edwards by 40,000 votes. Rispone withdrew his candidacy for party chairman largely out of a lack of support.

And what makes Harris somewhat interesting as a candidate isn’t his qualification for the job – after all, Harris was the chair of the House Republican delegation until last year, when the membership of that delegation chose Blake Miguez as his replacement, which doesn’t particularly speak to the volume of his political capital at present – but what he represents.

The same political consultant Harris employs also boasts as clients House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez, and additionally that consultant operates the leadership PAC outfit the two have put together.

And now the word is that Schexnayder is hitting up House Republicans to call their representatives on the Republican State Central Committee asking for or demanding support for Harris.

Here’s the thing – while there are legislators we greatly like and respect plying their trade at the Louisiana capitol, the idea that all the Republican power and money in the state would be centralized among Clay Schexnayder’s allies and his political consultant, whose last two races ended in Ralph Abraham’s 3rd place finish in the 2019 gubernatorial race and Harris’ clobbering at Letlow’s hands, is not a good one.

Remember, this is a state in which Republicans generally win elections pretty easily. Now it seems like the people responsible for losing the few races Louisiana Republicans do lose are teaming up with the people determined to waste the electoral successes in taking over control of the party.

Some $7 million was spent in the 2019 elections to give the GOP a supermajority in the Senate and a 68-vote near supermajority in the House. This should be the most aggressively conservative legislature Louisiana has ever had, and yet while it did manage to pass a reasonably significant tort reform package after a bit of botching its first attempt last year, the results have been underwhelming.

Has there been any attempt at sparking economic development through tax or regulatory policy? None whatsoever. In fact, they’re moving in the opposite direction by contemplating a gas tax increase which won’t pass, and attempting a “revenue-neutral” severance tax reform which would hammer the natural gas industry to benefit oil.

Did the Legislature lead at all on COVID-19? Hell, no. Schexnayder wasted months with completely ineffectual dancing around the issue of Edwards’ worthless lockdowns and mandates, none of which have had the slightest positive effect on stopping the spread of COVID, and blocked the majority of the delegation from signing a petition to reopen the state. He even brought citizens into “secret” meetings – one of which was recorded and the other, documented in detail, to berate them about their criticism of his opposition. And the shoddy reasoning he employed in those meetings ended up being the argument used against him by Edwards’ legal team when he finally did allow a petition to be signed.

Edwards has flouted the law in continuing his lockdowns, which have been scientifically proven to be worthless. Schexnayder, or more accurately Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who’s fighting on his behalf, is mired in court on the question. Nothing is being done on behalf of Louisiana’s business community as it groans under Edwards’ lockdowns.

And meanwhile the state is running a $34 billion budget the legislative leadership knuckled under to Edwards in creating, with a billion dollar deficit looming next year they’re praying will go away under a rain-shower of federal cash. They’re also praying that federal money storm will wash away the insolvency of the state’s unemployment insurance fund so that massive tax increases don’t kick in.

This is the kind of leadership we want the Louisiana GOP to have?

I’ll say this about Louis Gurvich, who is a personal friend and a contributor here at The Hayride: the things people are complaining about where the LAGOP is concerned are things the Legislature should have fixed. Better than 80 percent of the problems people blame the party for are directly attributable to the fact Louisiana runs a jungle primary system for all its elections. Without party primaries, the parties can’t do anything of any real use in producing candidates to bear their standard.

Right now you don’t really notice that as a problem for the Democrats. Nobody wants to run as a Democrat in Louisiana anymore, and they can barely generate candidates for competitive races at all. But on the Republican side, you get oodles of candidates running. The party can’t do much about that. In other states, like Alabama, the parties can even control ballot access. Here, they can’t even pick a nominee.

And Gurvich and others in the state GOP have been begging the Legislature for a bill bringing back closed party primaries for several years. Last year there were three legislative sessions. No such bill was advanced, despite the fact there is growing support for party primaries among the Legislative Black Caucus, which recognizes it will completely take over the Democrat Party in Louisiana should party primaries come back.

Why hasn’t the legislative leadership prioritized party primaries as a key election reform? The jungle primary is the chief reason we’ve had two terms of John Bel Edwards as the governor; Republican primaries and a good two month lag time between the primary and general election would very likely have produced a better-prepared GOP nominee for governor in both 2015 and 2019, and the Republicans in the Legislature would have been better off with a Republican governor all this time.

So we’re going to blame Gurvich for the Legislature’s failings?

When he took over the party it was a quarter million dollars in debt, and now it’s in the black. It’s won every election of note in the state save for Shane Smiley, who did virtually nothing and still managed 47 percent in his PSC race last year against Foster Campbell, and Rispone. It now has more than a million registered members and is on pace to pass the Democrats for party registration by the 2023 gubernatorial election.

Generally speaking, the state GOP is in pretty good shape. It’s the feckless legislative leadership which is tarnishing the party’s brand. Putting that leadership in charge of the party is the dumbest idea there is, so naturally it’s what’s being proposed for Saturday’s state central committee meeting.

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