Louisiana’s most consequential electoral contest last weekend ended up rife with the national media straining overly to conjure a lesson from its result for the entire country, when none really existed.
The favored Democrat District 7 state Sen. Troy Carter defeated his Democrat District 5 counterpart Karen Peterson in the special election to Congressional District Two. Media, both on the left and the right declared this a defeat for the political far left in which most of the candidates’ party seems enthralled. But the data call for a much more nuanced, if not opposite, conclusion.
According to my Louisiana Legislative Log voting scores over the past five years (with all of these scales, lower scores mean more leftist voting, although the LLL’s tries to capture the state’s unique populist political culture by conflating populism and liberalism, and reformism and conservatism), Carter scored on average 29 and Peterson just above 16. Using the American Conservative Union’s scorecard from 2016-19, he averaged around 45, while her number from 2014-19 was about 27.
Looking at scorecards attuned to more specific areas of policy, the Louisiana Family Forum’s that measures social issues had Carter with an average over the past five years of 38 and Peterson of just under 25 (her 2020 result is excluded for too few votes). Finally, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry’s version that reviews legislation affecting economic and fiscal policy (from the past five years save 2019; the LABI website has an incorrect URL to find that one), Carter nabbed a 17 while Peterson mustered a 15. Another way of viewing that is that the two are essentially indistinguishable on economics and finance, while Carter is less liberal on social policy, which explains the LLL and ACU scorings that take both areas together.
Keep in mind as well that Peterson’s LFF score is inflated in that she consistently voted against measures expanding gambling (for obvious reasons), the kinds of votes that have no equivalent at the federal level or relevant to the current woke craze. Further, a review of the LFF votes showed only one difference between the two on a woke issue where both voted: a 2017 vote on a bill that preserved free speech on college campuses supported by Carter (later vetoed by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards).
So, what you get really is a difference not in kind, but in degree. The pair are equally as far out on issues such as taxation, spending, and funding priorities. Carter might be more sympathetic to traditional views on issues dealing with religious freedom, abortion, and free speech, but does anybody seriously think he would buck the far-left congressional party leadership on the odd vote here or there that addresses those issues?
More accurately, Carter is slightly less “progressive” than Peterson. But he still will fit comfortably into the progressive wing of the House party, which comprises all but a handful of Democrats. If this district had behaved aberrantly to the current direction of national Democrats as they race towards the cliff, it would have generated a genuinely moderate Democrat as a candidate and its voters would have put that person into a runoff. Media outlets that try to diagnose the Carter win as anything but a victory for the far left conclude wrongly.