There are a few sliver linings for Democrats in Louisiana, a state that leans so far Republican that it sometimes tips over.
The governor, for instance, is a Democrat. The party faithful can likewise find hope in the congressman from New Orleans, especially since he took over a key leadership post in Washington, D.C. Additionally, there are two party officials who were recently placed into national positions of influence.
These are big wins for a party that was reading its own obituary in Bayou State newspapers — over and over — just a few years ago.
But, if political realities are to be embraced, these big wins don’t exactly equate to a new day in Louisiana for Democrats. The odds are still against them, and with the Republicans, when it comes to the Legislature and statewide elections.
Over the past decade, as of March 1 of this year, the Louisiana Democratic Party has lost more than 190,000 voters. By comparison, Republicans added 201,000 new voters during the same period and another 153,000 voters were lumped into the growing ranks of “no party.”
The candidate side of the equation doesn’t look much better. Of the 10 candidates who qualified in the three state House elections on this month’s ballot, only two were Democrats — and one has since dropped out. That this happened in districts where Democrats were at one time competitive doesn’t add much of a positive spin.
As the Louisiana Republican Party reaches one milestone after another, Democrats appear eager to find their footing here. Opportunities, in fact, could be right around the corner.
On the immediate horizon, politicos are watching to see if Democrats can yield a marketable candidate for state treasurer. A special election is slated for the fall and so far formidable names have been difficult to come by.
Attorney Caroline Fayard appeared in many polls last year when she ran for the U.S. Senate — and her name has now been included in at least one poll for treasurer. But that doesn’t mean she’s running.
Supporters say Fayard is fully re-entrenched in her practice and the private sector. While donors and community groups have been approaching her, it doesn’t sound like Fayard, while actively engaged in local and state politics, is taking many steps toward them.
Speculation has turned to Fayard and others with connections to the Big Easy because a Democrat from New Orleans could be well positioned to make the runoff for treasurer. The mayoral contest there — it’ll share ballot space with the treasurer’s election — is sure to drive turnout to the point of making a difference.
The problem is many of the established names from the city’s elected class are engaged with the mayoral race or are running for other municipal seats.
Then there’s Derrick Edwards, an attorney who found himself paralyzed after being injured in a high school football game. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate last year, alongside Fayard. But local Democrats are looking for someone who has a ready base, a fundraising apparatus in place and name recognition that stretches beyond New Orleans and into the surrounding regions.
Which Democrat might run for treasurer will be a question to ask until the qualifying period ends. And that means Democrats need to have a ready answer. (Unless the entire party infrastructure is prepared to completely abandon a statewide seat — something Republican donors in Louisiana would never allow.)
That, of course, turns the conversation toward the Democratic bench. Who’s ready to step up? The party has a strong showing amongst Louisiana mayors and that level has always been ripe for recruitment and talent.
There are Dems in the state Legislature as well who might be ready for prime-time politics, even as many of them readily admit that white Democrats could become an endangered species after the next legislative election cycle. Conservatives are seriously eyeing those seats in 2019 and mini battles are sure to break out sooner than later.
A lengthy rebuilding period may be the only solution for those who want to see Democrats return to at least part of their past glory in the state. But it would be a mistake to rely too much on Gov. John Bel Edwards and Congressman Cedric Richmond, the state’s top elected Democrats.
Edwards is aggressively raising money for re-election while tussling with lawmakers. Richmond is chairing the Congressional Black Caucus while shaking off controversial comments he made recently about a top advisor to President Donald Trump. Dems will simply need to dig deeper if political success in Louisiana is a goal.
Some members of the Democratic State Central Committee are starting to look closely at the party’s structure and how its leadership can be most effective. What comes of that process, which is still in its infancy, will be interesting to watch.
Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or a member of another party or no party, these inner workings are important to monitor. Maybe you need to keep tabs on the enemy camp. Maybe you care deeply about the ideology that Dems espouse.
Either way, Louisiana is undeniably a two-party state and voters deserve the best that both parties can provide. Improvements, after all, are always welcome.