Finding Just the Right Candidate

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By Jeremy Alford

As voters in Louisiana prepare to select our next state treasurer and public service commissioner this fall, and as other politicos begin to ponder next year’s congressional elections, there are a handful of influencers already trying to stack the legislative races slated for 2019.

Hey, it’s never too early. That’s an important maxim in Louisiana politics. But we’ve never seen so many contests for the state House and Senate start this soon. That’s for sure.

Pioneer Christmas 2017

Why is that the case? There are several reasons actually, beginning with terms limits. At least 35 percent of the entire Legislature will be turning over in 2019.

The most significant impact could be in the Senate, which will lose 41 percent of its members, or 16 out of 39 — a figure that comes dangerously close to a majority in the upper chamber. The House is slated for a 33 percent loss (35 out of 105) due to term limits, but that figure could climb as representatives run for Senate seats instead of re-election.

Candidates and campaigns managers are also discovering a need for fundraising efforts to start earlier or, better yet, never stop. Large super PACs, or political action committees, have become the norm in Louisiana, even for legislative elections — and they’re making it more difficult for some of the smaller association PACs that traditionally endorse candidates and help fund them to capture new donations.

The next crop of legislators will likewise be charged with steering the redistricting process, which occurs every 10 years. Members of Congress, judges and other elected officials will all be traveling to the Capitol in 2021 to protect their district lines. But not before special interests try to elect the legislators to draw them.

Finally there’s a very real recruitment effort underway by both Republican-minded and Democratic-leaning groups. Decision-makers have finally grown weary of having to pick from a list of qualifiers. They’d rather influence who actually qualifies.

The early action is surprising considering there are still 780 days or so to go until the Oct. 12, 2019, primary elections. And there’s not much of a balance to it all — in fact, most of that early action can only be found on the right.

That’s the side of the state’s political spectrum where a coalition of conservative committees and associations has been meeting regularly. Their shared goal is to have choice candidates in nearly every legislative race. Those at the table include the Louisiana Committee For a Republican Majority; Louisiana Association of Business and Industry; Louisiana Chemical Association; Associated Builders and Contractors; and Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. Other outfits, like the Louisiana Federation For Children, are brought into the mix as well on occasion.

While these organizations have worked together on a variety of issues over the years, they’ve never collectively prepared this early for an election fight.

Part of that has to do with an ongoing recruitment process that is seeking to place a larger on consistent conservative votes inside the rails — as compared to making decisions based solely on party affiliations.

It represents a different line of thinking on the right side of the lobbying corps. Instead of looking only for Republican candidates for each race, some of those involved with the drive are more interested in finding contenders who can comfortably carry a conservative label. After all, a Democratic or no-party legislator who votes with business and industry 100 percent of the time is much more valuable than a lifelong Republican who takes similar stances only half the time.

Part of this early push is being fueled by suspicions that Democrats will arrive prepared and organized for the 2019 cycle. Right now, though, the landscape doesn’t exactly look like that. Whereas those in the working group mentioned above are prepared to serve as a clearinghouse for conservative dollars in 2019, no such operation exists yet on the left.

But that’ll change, possibly sooner than later. The House Democratic Caucus is working on donor pitches and is said to have an impressive prospect list. Plus there’s speculation that the deep-pocketed plaintiff attorneys who helped Gov. John Bel Edwards get elected in 2015 may have more freedom (read: resources) to dip into legislative races. That’s because hopes are high on the left that the Democratic Governors Association will fly south with bags of cash to defend Edwards in the next cycle. National Democrats, more than anything else, want to make sure the governor remains the governor for the redistricting process — just in case his veto pen is needed.

There are also a handful of Democratic players and donors who, sort of like some of their GOP counterparts, are having informal discussions about the potential value in supporting moderate Republicans. Assuming Edwards is granted a second term, a more moderate Legislature would be a true gift.

There are some models out there Democrats could follow. For example, a similar effort in Kentucky recently produced enough moderate Republican legislators to override the far-right side of the party.

So while state legislators have become more partisan over the last few election cycles, the people and special interests that have bankrolled their campaigns in the past aren’t necessarily heading in the same direction. That could end up being a welcomed trend come 2019.