If Louisiana’s Democrats have any chance not to lose seats in next year’s legislative elections, they’ll have to win elections such as the Webster Parish-based 10th House of Representatives District.
Asked earlier this month about the upcoming contests, Democrat state Rep. Robert Johnson, who heads the party’s delegation in the House, stated he’d like to see Democrats add seats, but at the very least fall no lower than the 39 of 105 (with two vacancies) they have at present. He assumed the mantle of leadership a few months ago after former Democrat state Rep. Gene Reynolds, of the 10th District, stepped down as a prelude to his resigning office last month.
Yet 39 doesn’t leave much room for error. If 35 or fewer, Democrats unilaterally can’t stop measure that require supermajorities, such as constitutional amendments and reducing tax exceptions permanently. At that level, only four defectors, assuming unanimity among Republicans and the cooperation of any other party or no-party representatives, could thwart the party’s will.
Johnson may have trouble holding the line there. 2019 will feature the second complete term limit turnover, with those finishing third terms (whether fully serving all three) having to relinquish their posts. Most of the 14 Democrats assumed office from legislators subject to the first ever imposition of limits in 2007, and now they suffer the same fate. Their successors won’t have the power of incumbency to aid a reelection.
That matters as the electorate in these districts in national elections overwhelmingly have voted for Republicans over the past decade, and increasingly so in most as registration figures show the GOP picking up registrants at the expense of Democrats. In those 14 districts, Pres. Donald Trump carried more than 60 percent of the vote in half including the 10th, and only five really appear safe for the party. By contrast, Trump carried every one of the 19 Republican districts where term limits hit.
Of course, Democrats must defend another 25 seats where a veteran legislator could find himself upended. But only a couple of these don’t seem absolutely locked for them, using the metric of national party vote.
Democrats will employ the same strategy as always, trying to defuse the ideological shorthand that party labels connote, which put them at a disadvantage in a center-right state and particularly outside of central cities. But that’s significantly harder to do than even a decade ago.
A quarter-century ago, outside of a mainstream news media where incumbents – then overwhelmingly Democrats – held the upper hand in what got reported, almost all citizens could find next to no additional information on state politics and the voting behavior of their legislators. But an increasingly educated populace with increasing access to information – through talk radio, Internet sites, and social media posts – have diluted elected officials’ control over information dissemination, consumption, and action upon it.
Democrats will find personalistic, good-old-boy politics less effective than ever in 2019. Thus, they have a greater chance of falling below 36 seats than increasing their existing number.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer or this newspaper.