It looks as if Republicans succeeded in flipping Louisiana’s House of Representatives District 10 seat – but maybe in name only.
When qualifying closed for the special election to replace former Democrat state Rep. Gene Reynolds in the Webster Parish-based district, only veterinarian Wayne McMahen had filed, as a Republican. His father, also a veterinarian, Doc McMahen, had served as the parish’s sheriff as a Democrat.
Which, until recently, apparently Wayne McMahen was as well. Further, he has the backing of Reynolds, who led House Democrats for much of his second and uncompleted term. The rumor mill also has McMahen supported by interests trying to raise the gas tax.
All this points to McMahen being a RINO – Republican In Name Only. Several populate both chambers of the Legislature, individuals who exploit both Louisiana’s eroding populist political culture and conservatism on social issues.
Typically, RINOs emphasize issue preferences such as being pro-life and against gun control and make personal connections with constituents through service to them. That especially includes influential people wanting government to tax more so it can spend more, preferably on contracts for them, and allows RINOs to shovel more money to local government and state bureaucracy back home. Then they can boast about all of the pork and jobs they have provided to secure reelection.
McMahen will serve out the remainder of Reynolds’ term, and if he wishes to continue will have to run again next year. Thus, Webster voters (plus a small number in Bossier Parish) have a chance to audition him, in a sense, in a district where in 2016 two-thirds of them cast ballots for GOP Pres. Donald Trump and three-fifths voted for Republican Sen. John Kennedy.
Whether in 2019 they collect much data about his issue preferences is another matter. Although the Legislature in its regular session may deal with tax measures, with elections that fall probably few such measures will come to a vote. In election years, pro-tax legislators prefer to put off such votes if they can to escape opponents reminding the electorate about how they wanted to raise taxes. Thus, any sympathy McMahen might have for tax hikes seems unlikely to surface.
However, the Legislature must come up with a budget. Here, any big government leanings McMahen might have could become evident in the choices he supports for spending and in the total amount he supports appropriating.
Perhaps McMahen will prove conservatives’ suspicion of him groundless, but, regardless, his solo candidacy shows the atrophied state of local Republicans if they have to accept a longtime Democrat and Reynolds protégé. They score a small victory in that, for just the second time ever (the first also from a special election lasting just nine months) a Republican will serve in the seat.
But overall, when the dust settles this year, in terms of elected officials in Webster, likely not only will there be elected more Democrats but also more no-party or independent candidates than Republicans. McMahen’s coronation is the consequence of a short bench.
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.