Special election rattles stateís political landscape

Special to the Herald-Guide

November 22, 2013 at 9:42 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

By John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford

Political newcomer Vance McAllister of Swartz pulled off his second big election surprise in a row by easily defeating the early favorite in the Nov. 16 runoff in the 5th Congressional District.

After coming out of nowhere to finish second in the primary—and 15 points behind state Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia—McAllister thumped his fellow Republican in the runoff with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

“No one saw this coming,” said one political operative not aligned with either campaign.

Another predicted even more surprises as data becomes available, saying, “I’ll bet (McAllister) carries all major demographics when the analysis is done. He definitely cornered the anti-Jindal vote.”

While endorsements often don’t offer enough to push a candidate over the finish line, Couvillon said McAllister owes a large debt to Public Service Commission Clyde Holloway, a Republican from Forest Hill; Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a Democrat; and the “Duck Dynasty” bunch, according to John Couvillon with JMC Enterprises of Louisiana.

All gave big nods to the businessman. Holloway and Mayo, in particular, were primary losers.

“The cumulative effect of those endorsements is important,” Couvillon said. “In isolation they wouldn’t have made as much of a difference as all three together.”

While both ran on conservative platforms, McAllister took a more pragmatic approach to the Affordable Care Act and even called for expanding Medicaid to cover more uninsured low-income residents—opposing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s stance.

Riser in turn attacked McAllister in direct mail and on TV regarding the health care issue.

McAllister made his stance known on Medicaid just eight days before the election, during a time in campaigns when many voters start tuning out, with their decisions already made. Analysts and consultants say McAllister had already worked up a head of steam when he dropped his political bomb during Louisiana Public Broadcasting’s Nov. 8 debate.

Given more time, Riser could have gained traction on his attacks, they say, but probably not enough to turn the tide.Nonetheless, many view McAllister’s Medicaid expansion comments as the turning point in the race. It may have certainly been the fuel behind Democratic turnout in certain areas, like black precincts in Ouachita Parish where McAllister earned more votes than Mayo did in the primary.

Riser was supported by all of the state’s Republican congressmen and was all but verbally endorsed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who called the senator a good friend and “great conservative leader” while criticizing McAllister’s position on the Medicaid expansion.

The question now becomes whether the race will affect next year’s U.S. Senate election. In his campaign against incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, Congressman Bill Cassidy does seem to be using the same playbook as McAllister’s failed opponent.

Themes that draw support from the tea party demographic—thrash Obamacare, be tough on immigration, balance the budget and cut entitlements—haven’t worked for Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, who trails behind newcomer and fellow Republican Rob Maness in that respect. Riser, however, did have tea party support. And look where it got him.† †

That’s not to say Maness is positioned for a similar upset. But it’s probably a sign that Cassidy will be taking a more pragmatic approach in the coming months on what have been his cornerstone issues. Unless Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat who has made an art of playing the center, gets there first. †

Stakes are high with Common CoreWith more complaints than big ideas being heard, supporters and opponents are wondering what happens next in regard to Common Core.

While observers in Louisiana aren’t predicting a court battle just yet, it is an avenue that has bubbled to the surface in other states, like New York, where a class action lawsuit has been mentioned by parents in Wappingers Falls.

In Wisconsin, the state schools superintendent is threatening to sue as well if lawmakers repeal Common Core standards next time they meet. During a presentation recently in D.C., former Louisiana superintendent of education Paul Pastorek compared the ongoing debate to a time when high-stakes tests were implemented here in the late 90s, a move that brought on its own round of lawsuits.

Whiteboard Advisors, a Washington-based policy consulting practice, issued a report recently saying national education “insiders” are split on whether Louisiana will eventually pull out, noting there are a “variety of influential voices for and against the Common Core assessments but (insiders) think some putative allies may be doing harm to proponents of the standards.”

Aside from state Education Superintendent John White, BESE chair Chas Roemer is quickly becoming the face of Louisiana ‘s proponent effort. Considering his political ambitions—the latest includes rumors that he’s eyeing the 6th Congressional District—his front and center role may also mean he has the most to lose in all of this. The start of the 2014 regular session will tell how much, and is probably the answer to the question of what happens next.

Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, who has been holding his own town hall meetings on the topic, said he has a package of bills in the works. He said he has heard many concerns from educators and parents about being locked out of the process by White and Roemer.

“There’s a severe lack of trust there and I can’t do anything to fix that,” he said.

But what he can do is prepare legislation to give local school officials more control over content and curriculum. “They should be able to decide on textbooks and things like that. I’m still fleshing out the idea,” Schroder told LaPolitics.

Another one of his bills may focus on data-sharing and what the Department of Education is allowed to collect. Other lawmakers are looking at how much should be spent implementing Common Core and how parents can have a voice in the process.

Legislation is also expected from Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who wants to pull Louisiana out of Common Core altogether.




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