by laviolet, Tue Oct 03, 2006 at 06:12:50 AM EDT
(cross-posted from Daily Kos with editing)
On Saturday, September 30, 2006. Louisiana held its first statewide election since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. While the election mechanics were nearly flawless, long-term prospects for Louisiana Democrats look unfortunately dim.
Louisiana had lagged behind the Republican realignment in the South, thanks to the largest Catholic population in the region and a reliable Democratic base in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the supply of Democrats to run for statewide offices and Congress is drying up as more Republicans win elections to local offices and the legislature. Hurricane Katrina's displacement of thousands of black voters from New Orleans has aggravated the process.
The offices of insurance commissioner and secretary of state became vacant over the past year, and Saturday's election was to fill those vacancies until regular statewide elections in October 2007. The insurance commissioner's race featured two Republicans and a Libertarian. For secretary of state, the contenders included four Republicans, one Libertarian, one non-partisan candidate and the lone Democrat, State Sen. Francis Heitmeier. The runoff will be between Heitmeier and Republican State Sen. Jay Dardenne of Baton Rouge. (In case you're wondering why Democrats and Republicans are on the same ballot, the open primary system was pushed through over thirty years ago by now-incarcerated former Gov. Edwin Edwards, who got tired of having to go through a primary, runoff, and general to get elected.) Interim insurance commissioner Jim Donelon of Jefferson Parish narrowly won election to complete the current term.
Here's how Times-Picayune political reporter Ed Anderson called the situation Monday.
Louisiana pollster Bernie Pinsonat noted that two-thirds of the votes cast in Saturday's race went to Republicans, indicating that Heitmeier has "a huge hill to climb." Heitmeier did particularly poorly with white voters, Pinsonat said.
Heitmeier's performance in the runoff will be closely watched as a sign of voting trends in post-hurricane Louisiana. Even before the storms, Republicans were steadily gaining ground on the Democrats and were running strong with independents. Katrina displaced many voters from Orleans Parish, which has been a stronghold for Democratic candidates in past statewide races.
Heitmeier was also hurt by his opposition to consolidation of the patronage-riddled New Orleans area levee boards. The enabling constitutional amendments, placed on this ballot by the legislature, passed with 80% in favor.
The two most prominent Democrats in Louisiana are Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Sen. Mary Landrieu. Due to her perceived lackluster performance during and since the hurricanes, Blanco currently ranks 44th among governors with a -16% approval rating, according to SurveyUSA. As for Landrieu, you only need look at these sobering results from her 2002 re-election bid against Suzanne Haik Terrell:
New Orleans Rest of LA
Landrieu 105,780 532,874
Terrell 26,880 569.762
As a loyal Democrat, I've had plenty of issues with Landrieu's voting record, but as she comes up for re-election in 2008, her political position is extremely precarious.
Finally, we in Louisiana finally have something in the political arena we can point to with pride - the election went off without a hitch. Why? Two words: NO DIEBOLD. Louisiana uses AVC Advantage Voting Systems. Louisiana has so thoroughly streamlined its voting systems that the second-place finisher for insurance commissioner, Republican State Sen. John David Cain, will not challenge the results despite missing a runoff by only 605 votes. As Anderson reported,
(Acting Secretary of State Al) Ater said his office and the parish clerks of court will now check the returns before making them official. The returns include totals from people who voted Saturday, voters who cast ballots during the weeklong early voting period and those who cast absentee ballots, including hurricane-displaced voters and military personnel stationed away from home.
"The likelihood of errors is very slim," Ater said, because of a new statewide electronic voting system that transmits returns from the precincts to local and state elections officials, minimizing human errors.
So Louisiana can now claim an accurate and effective voting system. Unfortunately, there's a lot fewer votes to count from Democrats.