Results of the Runoff: Major and Minor Changes in Louisiana Politics

People have asked me about the local races in New Orleans. Here is a brief synopsis that was also featured in Data News Weekly.

Charlie Turner @charliemichio

Can Also Be Read in Data News Weekly, 11/22/2015 Edition…

For those who did not receive 50% or more of the vote in the open-primary were subject to a ‘runoff election’. The two highest vote-getters go head to head, majority wins outright. With the exception of David Vitter, every other runoff candidate belongs to the Democratic Party.

Louisiana Governorship: John Bel Edwards Defeats David Vitter

A Democrat will be the next Governor of Louisiana, a prospect that seemed unthinkable in a state that seemed to only get redder. Statehouses all over the South seemed beyond the reach for Democrats as moderate voices disappeared in lieu of Tea-Party Republicans. When Mary Landrieu lost her senate seat in 2014, everyone was reminded of the steady GOP takeover of the American south that began with the backlash from the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

During those 2014 midterms, Sen. David Vitter appeared to be one of, if not the most, powerful politicians in Louisiana. He was a loud and disruptive force in DC who increasingly became a voice for conservatives and anti-Obama sentiment. All the while Bobby Jindal’s building absenteeism in office, controversial budget proposals and refusal to expand Medicaid seemed to make him more divisive by the day. Once the budget busted in 2015 and voters began to see Jindal as having blind Presidential ambitions, Vitter became the de facto face of the Louisiana GOP.  But ultimately, Jindal’s descent to a 20% approval rating, 55% amongst Republicans, may have been what doomed Vitter who has near identical policy views as the term-limited Governor.

Attacks on Vitter’s involvement in the DC-madam prostitution ring clearly did not help the senator’s poll numbers, but it is difficult to say if they were the main reason for his defeat considering his smooth 2010 reelection. It is possible that voters simply act on different priorities in senate races compared to gubernatorial ones. But what seems undeniable is that the Jindal administration created a desire for political change which did not bode well for Vitter.

Besides bringing a new political party to the statehouse, an Edwards Administration will bring a push for Medicaid expansion, a higher minimum wage and more investment in higher education. If Edwards can get a majority Republican state congress to cooperate is another conversation. But he has political momentum behind him as well as a willingness to challenge the network of business tax credits and industry groups that defined the Jindal administration. Edwards is far from a radical progressive but does offer a change from the tea-party politics that have defined many statehouses over the past ten years, Louisiana included.

State Senate 7th District: Troy Carter Defeats Jeff Arnold

Rep. Arnold has a reputation for being a fierce advocate for Algiers even if it meant alienating the Mayor or his colleagues. His name recognition and political following easily got him past the primary, but not enough to beat Troy Carter in the runoff. Carter is a diplomat who has been successful in passing legislation on both the state and city level. His parliamentary skills coupled with his affable persona should make him an effective senator in Baton Rouge.

State Representative 100th District: John Bagneris Defeats Alicia Plummer Clivens

Bagneris beat Clivens despite her allegations that he owes over $200,000 in tax debts. While his family name (brother of mayoral candidate Hon. Michael Bagneris) surely helped his candidacy, he is a community leader and a knowledgeable legislator in his own right.  He plans on bringing commercial centers back to NOLA East and empower traditional public schools to prevent children from having to commute to charters in other neighborhoods.

State Representative 99th District: Jimmy Harris Defeats Ray Crawford

Jimmy Harris, longtime aide to US Rep. Cedric Richmond, handily beat the politically unknown Rev. Crawford to represent large swaths of the Ninth Ward. Like many politicians representing the Lower Ninth, Harris wants to focus efforts on developing the blighted neighborhood. He supports using certain tax incentives to encourage economic activity. But with a budget deficit largely caused by generous tax credits, it may prove hard to use such a legislative tool.

Member of School Board District 1: John Brown Defeats Keith Barney

Brown gets elected to a full term on the School Board after being appointed to replace Ira Thomas who was indicted on corruption charges. The board is in the middle overhauling the fully charter school system that has faced criticism for a lack of oversight. Brown will be in a position to affect a school system teetering between private and public management.