Racial voting trends are changing

By John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford

With important federal and state elections just around the corner, consultants, politicians and pollsters are trying to make sense of Louisiana’s voter registration numbers, which have slowly been morphing into a new kind of southern electorate.

White voters remain the dominate force in the state, with a registration of 1.87 million, according to this month’s tally from the Secretary of State’s Office. But the growth in this sector is flat, with only 10,000 or so new voters added over the past six years.

Black registration has grown more, and steadily, from roughly 802,000 voters in 2000 to nearly 843,000 seven years later to 902,000 as of this month.

Additionally, voters defined as “other,” meaning neither white nor black, has jumped from 89,600 13 years ago to 134,000 today. That’s a 49.5 percent increase in voters defined as “other,” such as Hispanic and Asian-American citizens.

John M. Couvillon, president of JMC Enterprises, a Baton Rouge-based political polling firm, said it’s a notable shift in the numbers, but isn’t uniformly distributed throughout the state.

“While it’s true that Republicans nationally need to appeal to Hispanics and Asians, Louisiana isn’t one of those swing states right now,” he said. “But it may be eventually.”

Instead, Couvillon said the “other” registration, in regard to race, has seen double digit increases in small pockets around Kenner and Gretna, where they have become strong enough to swing elections for state House seats. Elsewhere, related voter turnout has been dismal at best.

“I think it’s a case of those voting groups not being connected enough and candidates ignoring them,” he said, adding the trend should spread more evenly over the next generation of voters.The “others” rise upThen there’s the issue of party. Democrats have gone from a registration of 1.6 million in 2000 to only 1.3 million voters today. While many might assume that the Louisiana Republican Party picked up the slack there, they have only grown by roughly 198,000 registrations over the past 13 years, to it’s current count of about 806,500 members. Still, for every year the Democrats lost numbers, Republicans gained them, resulting in an increase of 32 percent since 2000.

But again, it’s the “other” sector that has jumped the highest, going from nearly 497,000 registrations in 2000 to about 714,000 as of this month. That’s a growth rate of 43.6 percent for those who have forsaken both Republicans and Democrats.

It’s also only 92,500 voters shy of what Republicans now boast—an achievement soured only by the fact that many registered Democrats in Louisiana actually vote Republican. Kirby Goidel, director of LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab, said there are so many different ideologies in the “other” party sector that it doesn’t often get the opportunity to affect statewide elections. But it’s recent growth certainly offers an impression of how voters feel about partisan politics.

“It’s a big indicator about how some people regard the two biggest parties,” Goidel said. “More and more people are refusing to buy the brand.”Term-limited legislators eyeing comebacksWith two state senators running for Congress, there is already interest from formerly term-limited lawmakers in filling their potential vacancies.

If Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, wins the special election in the 5th Congressional District, former representative and one-time Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Bryant Hammett Jr. is said to be interested in running again for the Senate seat. Riser beat him for the post in 2007. Hammett, a civil engineer in Ferriday, did not return a call for comment.

Whether or not Sen. Rick Ward, R-Maringouin, is elected next year in the 6th District, former Sen. Rob Marionneaux is ready to reclaim his old seat.

“I will definitely be back in the race,” said Marionneaux. With new state senators trending Republican, it’s interesting to note that both Hammett and Marionneaux finished out their terms in office as Democrats and would presumably run again as such.Alexander departure a clout busterCongressman Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, in his sixth term, departs as the dean of the House delegation. That means his decision to retire and become Louisiana’s veterans affairs secretary also undercuts the state’s seniority when it was just regaining some traction.

He held the state’s only seat on the House Appropriations Committee and had reached the status of “cardinal” as chairman of the bottom-rung subcommittee that deals with Capitol Police, the Library of Congress and the Botanical Garden.

When Alexander departs, the most senior member of the House delegation will be Congressman Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, elected in 2004.

But Louisiana’s real seniority in Congress rests with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who could be in line to chair the Energy Committee in 2015, if the state’s voters don’t cut short her career next year.

They said it“I’m concerned that this lawsuit sends the message that you can do business in this state for 50 years and obey all of the laws and then we’ll sue you.” -Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton, on the historic lawsuit filed by a New Orleans-area levee board “All this talk about ice, I think I need a drink.”-Rep. Chris Leopold, R-Chalmette, on rising sea levels, during a recent legislative hearing.


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