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Reports on Louisiana politics, government and the people shaping state policy

This week in politics: Low turnout, losses for Democrats lead to calls for party chair to resign

A sign outside Warren Easton Charter High School, a New Orleans poll site, during Louisiana's primary election day on Oct. 14, 2023.
Aubri Juhasz
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WWNO
A sign outside Warren Easton Charter High School, a New Orleans poll site, during Louisiana's primary election day on Oct. 14, 2023.

Every Friday, politics reporter Molly Ryan rounds up the news of the week from the campaign trail and beyond. 

Dismal early voting turnout continued through primary day

The low turnout of the primary’s early voting period carried over to primary election day — for a total turnout at a dismal 36%. It’s the lowest voter showing in a Louisiana gubernatorial primary in more than a decade.

The impact of such a low turnout can be significant: In the highest-profile race of the primary, Jeff Landry won the governorship outright, meaning that he pulled in more than half of the votes cast in the race. He’ll take office in January, bypassing a runoff in the November general election. But because of the low numbers, he was able to win with just over 550,000 votes — that represents around 18% of all registered voters in the state.

For context: President Joe Biden brought in about 850,000 votes in the 2020 general election, which his competitor, Donald Trump, won by a significant margin in Louisiana.

Only about 1 million voters showed up at the polls in the October primaries — but roughly 3 million people are registered to vote in the state. According to Secretary of State data, the percentages of Black voters and Democrats who cast ballots were also down from the last gubernatorial primary.

Numbers were also down in traditionally blue strongholds like New Orleans, where just over a quarter of registered voters cast ballots.

Thanks to Landry’s outright win, Republicans will be taking back the governor’s office for the first time in eight years.

Democrats’ primary losses prompt calls for party chair to resign

Louisiana's Democratic party chair is under fire this week, after Democrats' dismal showing in Saturday's gubernatorial primary.

Republican candidates dominated all of Louisiana's statewide races on the primary ballots, and won the governorship, lieutenant governorship and most contested state Legislature seats outright.

Since then, a growing number of prominent voices, like Public Service Commissioner Davante Lewis, have been calling on the head of the state’s Democratic Party, Katie Bernhardt, to resign.

Bernhardt responded in a statement Thursday, saying the party is “standing firm and moving full speed ahead.”

She says the Democratic Party is focused on a strong turnout for early voting in the general election; getting its three candidates for statewide positions elected in November; and supporting its candidates in local races.

Gubernatorial candidates Stephen
Screenshot
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File
Louisiana gubernatorial candidates Stephen Waguespack (left), a Republican, and Democrat Shawn Wilson debate their platforms at an event in which all gubernatorial candidates polling above 5% were invited. Frontrunner Jeff Landry, a Republican and the state's attorney general, declined the invitation to participate. Wilson trailed Landry in the October primary election, pulling in 26% of votes to Landry's 52%.

Still, several people have raised questions about the Democrats’ approach to this election season: They didn’t have a viable candidate in the governor’s race until Shawn Wilson stepped up in March, which was a later entrance than usual. And Wilson faced a widespread lack of name recognition, even among Democrats. He also wasn’t able to keep up with Landry’s fundraising pace.

In the end, Wilson pulled in more votes than any other competitor besides Landry, but came significantly short of making it to a November runoff in the open primary, with only 26% of the vote.

Election season isn’t over yet: Major statewide and local races — plus four more constitutional amendments — will be on the ballot in November

It might be tempting for voters to check out of election mode, after the highest-profile race has been decided. (And it’s not just the governor’s race: Republican incumbent Billy Nungesser won the race for lieutenant governor outright, too — and the statewide positions of insurance commissioner and agriculture and forestry commissioner were uncontested, also to be filled by Republicans in January.)

Louisiana’s open primary means voters are asked to vote for the candidate they want to see on the ballot in the November general election. The two candidates with the largest percentages of votes in each contest land on the November ballot — unless a single candidate garners more than 50% of the votes. In those cases, the candidate was automatically declared the winner.

But three hugely important statewide races will move to a runoff on November’s general election ballot: secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer.

Secretary of State was the tightest primary race. Democrat Gwen Collins-Greenup, a Baton Rouge attorney, and Republican Nancy Landry, the first assistant secretary of state, are advancing to the runoff.

Louisiana's secretary of state is responsible for business filings, notaries and, most prominently, running elections and the voting process.

The state Legislature passed a law in 2021 that bans the voting machines currently used in the state, and requires Louisiana to implement a new system, with a paper trail. It will be up to the next secretary of state to choose and implement the new system.

In the attorney general’s race, Democrat Lindsey Cheek, an attorney from New Orleans, and Republican Liz Murrill, the state’s solicitor general, are headed to runoff.

The attorney general acts as the chief legal officer in the state — primarily representing the state and state agencies in civil lawsuits. The next attorney general will largely define the state’s relationship with the federal government, as well as whether — and how aggressively — the state will be involved in litigation concerning oil and gas leases, abortion access, LGBTQ+ health care and other adjacent issues.

In a runoff to be the state’s next treasurer are Democrat Dustin Granger, a financial adviser from Lake Charles, and former U.S. Rep. John Fleming, a Republican who worked for the Trump administration.

Louisiana’s treasurer is responsible for managing the state’s investments, and leads the State Bond Commission, which has the authority to allow municipalities across the state to levy taxes and take on debt. The commission also manages the state’s debt, which, according to the SBC website, is at about $6.7 billion.

Republicans will maintain their supermajority in the Legislature. So if none of Democratic challengers in these races win, that means Republicans will have total control of state government.

Voters statewide will also be asked to consider four potential amendments to the state constitution, each of which requires a majority vote at the polls to be implemented. These amendments are different from the four on primary election ballots, all of which voters approved.

The nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council published a guide to all of the proposed amendments that voters are deciding on this fall, including the four additional amendments on the ballot in November:

  • Amendment 1: “Do you support an amendment to clarify that the timing of gubernatorial action on a bill and his return of a vetoed bill to the legislature is based upon the legislative session in which the bill passed and to authorize the legislature, if it is in session, to reconsider vetoed bills without convening a separate veto session?”
  • Amendment 2: “Do you support an amendment to remove provisions of the Constitution of Louisiana which created the following inactive special funds within the state treasury: Atchafalaya Basin Conservation Fund, Higher Education Louisiana Partnership Fund, Millennium Leverage Fund, Agricultural and Seafood Products Support Fund, First Use Tax Trust Fund, Louisiana Investment Fund for Enhancement and to provide for the transfer of any remaining monies in such funds to the state general fund?”
  • Amendment 3:  “Do you support an amendment to authorize the local governing authority of a parish to provide an ad valorem tax exemption for qualified first responders?”
  • Amendment 4: “Do you support an amendment authorizing the legislature, after securing a two-thirds vote of each house, to use up to two hundred fifty million dollars from the Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund to alleviate a budget deficit subject to conditions set forth by law and allowing the legislature to modify such conditions for accessing the monies in the fund, subject to two-thirds vote?”

Voters can dive into the full guide or browse a one-page version.

Locally, many voters will see state legislators, sheriffs, school board members, clerks and other public officials on the general election ballot, too. Voters can preview their general election ballots on the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website, which offers a tool that allows voters to see what’s on their ballot ahead of time.

Sample ballots for the November election will be available two weeks before Election Day, which will be held on Saturday, Nov. 18.

One week left to register for November's general election

Election Day is set for Saturday, Nov. 18.

Louisianans can check their registration status and register to vote at the secretary of state’s website and on GeauxVote.com.

The deadline for registering in person or by mail has already passed, but there’s still time to register online, for eligible voters who have a Louisiana driver's license or state ID.

Voters haveuntil Oct. 28 to register online for the general election in November.

The November election also offers an early voting period, from Nov. 3 through Nov. 11 — with the exception of Sunday, Nov. 5 and Friday Nov. 10 for Veterans Day, when polling places will be closed — from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Molly Ryan
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WRKF file

During those days, any eligible voter can show up to a designated early voting spot and cast their ballot — Louisianans don’t need to offer a reason for voting early; any registered voter may choose to do so.

The state has set up dozens of early voting locations throughout Louisiana — which might not be the same locations as voters’ regular polling place. Voters can find their early polling locations on the Secretary of State’s website.

Politics news from across the state

Louisiana will have another big cash surplus when Jeff Landry takes office, forecast says The Advocate, Baton Rouge

Louisiana state lawmakers will once again have a surplus in state funds this year, according to the most recent budget forecasts. Under the state constitution, half of that surplus must go into the rainy day fund and toward paying off state retirement debt. But the Legislature will be left with tens of millions of dollars in extra cash to spend in the upcoming fiscal year.

Metairie Republican gets the nod to be the new state Senate president The Advocate, Baton Rouge

Second-term state Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, is expected to fill the role of Senate president, succeeding Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette. He is expected to work closely with Gov.-elect Jeff Landry, who favored his candidacy, on pushing conservative policies.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of La., talks to the press as he leaves the House Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023.
Jose Luis Magana
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AP
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), talks to the press as he leaves the House Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol in Washington on Oct. 12.

Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson will run for speaker if Jim Jordan falls short of votes Shreveport Times, Shreveport

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, who represents Louisiana’s 4th District, said earlier this week that he is considering a bid for House speaker if Ohio Republican Jim Jordan fails to get the necessary votes to win a speaker election. Since then, Jordan has been dropped as the GOP nominee. Last week, Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise dropped his bid to be speaker after failing to garner the necessary support from his colleagues.

Every Friday afternoon, politics reporter Molly Ryan brings listeners election and politics updates live on the Capitol Access segment of All Things Considered on WWNO and WRKF. 

Molly Ryan is a political reporter and covers state politics from the Louisiana Capitol.