And another indicator that Louisiana’s Democrats have thrown in the towel when it comes to the short-term goal of more favorable policy-maker district reapportionment and longer-term goal of advancing an agenda came when Democrat state Rep. Ted James announced his imminent departure from the Legislature.
James said he will resign soon to take a mid-level job in Democrat Pres. Joe Biden’s Small Business Administration. Aside from his law practice, he has no experience as a businessman and, as MacAoidh noted with such rich irony, has a voting record hostile to business in general.
But James is halfway through his final term, has no chance to win any statewide office next year or apparently take a realistic shot at incumbent Democrat Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s job after, and would have to face an incumbent of his own party of he wished to attempt immediate continuance of his legislative career in the state Senate. And as much as Biden appears bound to a single term in office so James may serve fewer than two years in that post, his criminal law practice going forward mustn’t have looked too promising without his holding a legislative seat.
Significantly, giving that up entails a big sacrifice. Next to Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, James was the most powerful elected Democrat in the state. As chairman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, he set the tone for the voting bloc in the party of greatest importance, eclipsing the nominal power of House Democrat leader Sam Jenkins because he heads up all black legislative Democrats (the Senate doesn’t organize itself by parties and especially Democrats, with just a dozen and all but one black).
Which tells noticeably about the perceived future policy-making ambitions of the party. Edwards essentially has become a goalie facing a never-ending hockey shootout, desperately trying to stop Republicans from marching their agenda into policy and unable to forward his own. His party can’t stop anything in the Senate and must depend upon the backing of no party members in the House to stop GOP measures there.
That’s just the environment over the next two years. In the interim, in a month a special session for reapportionment will kick off. Top Democrat aims then be to try to force a second minority-majority district onto the state’s six congressional districts, to turn another state Supreme Court district into the same, and to ensure that it doesn’t see the composition of House districts’ constituencies on the whole become less favorable for its electoral fortunes (voter distributions statewide present no real chances to redraw Senate districts to favor a party).
Democrats unlikely will succeed with the first two goals, particularly with the first (and with that gambling it could win a long-shot court case), and will leverage the third only if they play cannily by maneuvering the GOP into (perhaps unnecessarily) trading off its achieving redistricting gains to keep the current congressional and highest court maps at one M/M district each. That will require skillful leadership.
Which becomes less likely forthcoming when the LLBC leader bails out of his job mere days before meeting the biggest challenge of his legislative career. And James also forfeits his chairman’s job over the House Administration of Criminal Justice, which gives the House GOP leadership a chance to put a Republican in the post.
All in all, the move telegraphs the hopelessness legislative Democrats perceive going forward not just as the minority party in state government, but also one with minimal ability even to affect the policy-making process. When the most important legislative Democrat would rather abandon the party in its hour of need for a mediocre job of limited duration, that speaks volumes as to its ability to influence state policy now and in the near future.