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As Election Day Approaches, Many Legislative Seats Already Decided

Aug 20, 2019

Every seat in the Louisiana Legislature is up for election this October. A third of those races have already been decided, as candidates went unopposed.

For those races where an election will decide the winner, more than 40% only feature candidates from the same party.

On this week's Capitol Access, Pearson Cross, political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, discusses what the climate of politics in Louisiana.

Q: The vast majority of the lawmakers elected without opposition are incumbents, or have served in the Legislature before. Why do you think it is that these lawmakers aren’t facing challengers this year?

Well, there are a number of reasons.  One is that it takes a lot to have a legislative race.  You have to raise money, you have to form a committee, go through all those steps.  The other thing is with term limits, people are waiting until seats open up when they feel like they'll have a better chance of going for that seat.  The third reason has to do with the way districts are created.  If you have a Republican district, for example, and you have a Republican legislator in that district, other Republican legislators who could compete for that will probably say 'what's the point? So-and-so is already doing a good job.'"

Q: Is this something different compared to past election cycles? Or are we seeing an uptick in uncontested seats?

I think there's a little bit of an uptick.  This has always been something of an issue.  We use to be a one-party Democratic state and we had the same kind of issue.  When there's lack of party competition—that is, between two parties for a particular seat—the competition for those seats goes down and they kind of become property of whoever is in them.  So, the incumbent has an enormous advantage.

Q: For those races that do have multiple candidates - more than 40% only consist of either all Republican candidates or all Democratic candidates. Could that lead to greater levels of partisanship in the Legislature, and if so, how? 

Absolutely.  Looking at this election, one of the things that seems clear is that we're going to end up with a more partisan Legislature overall.  What we see are Republicans challenging Republicans and Democrats challenging Democrats.  We are going to see more partisan people on both sides.  Democrats are going to be more liberal, Republicans are going to be more conservative, and that's going to affect politics in Baton Rouge.  When competition is intra-party—betweeen the same party—then there's typically a one-upmanship going on.  If someone is for gun control, the other person has to be even more for gun control.  If one person is against it in a Republican district, the other person then is drawn to be a little more extreme.  So it just pushes politics more towards the edges.

The big takeaway from this has to do with what politics will be like under a new governor and new Legislature.  If John Bel Edwards should happen to get reelected, he's certainly going to be facing a Legislature that's less likely to work with him.  The Committee for a Republican Majority has sized-up some races around the state and they're trying to support candidates who will be more conservative, not just more Republican.  If that's the case and if they're succesful—as many people feel they will be—John Bel Edwards is not going to have a fun time dealing with the Legislature in his last term.