The Republican wave that swept across America on Nov. 2 continues to douse Louisiana. No doubt looking ahead to next year's statewide elections, some Democratic state lawmakers are hoping to head off a GOP onslaught by switching parties now.
State Rep. Walker Hines of New Orleans was first out of the gate. Hines bolted from the Democratic ranks on Nov. 12, saying the move was based on principles, not politics. Others noted that Hines' district was among those destined to be carved up in next year's redistricting bloodbath, and Hines is rumored to be considering a run for secretary of state. Among politicians, self-preservation and ambition rank among the most sacred principles.
What cannot be disputed is that Hines changed parties on his own, without lining up concessions from the GOP or even consulting Republican mullahs beforehand. He did call several party leaders immediately afterward, he says.
Hines' conversion puts Republicans within two votes of a majority in the state House of Representatives, which already is run by Republican Speaker Jim Tucker of Algiers. It's a safe bet that as more conservative, pro-life Democrats digest the impact of the midterm elections, the GOP will have a majority in the House when the spring session begins in April.
In the Senate, Democrat John Alario of Westwego let it be known that he, too, is contemplating a party change. Ever the pragmatist — and the dean of the Louisiana Legislature — Alario makes no secret of his ambition to become Senate president in 2012. Current Senate President Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan, is term limited.
Alario, who began his legislative tenure as a state rep in 1972 but faced a hard-charging GOP opponent in his first bid for the Senate in 2007, twice served as House speaker (1984-88, and 1992-96). He is considered one of the most effective lawmakers in Baton Rouge, and no one knows the state budgeting process better than he.
In addition to warding off potential GOP opposition next year, a party switch would position Alario well to make a bid for Senate president as Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal (presumably) begins his second term. Jindal and Alario already have a good working relationship — governors have learned the value of courting the wily Alario — and a new party uniform just might seal the deal for the veteran West Bank lawmaker, particularly if Republicans capture the Senate in next year's elections.
As of now, Democrats hold the edge in the Louisiana Senate with 22 votes to Republicans' 16, plus one independent. If Alario switches, the Democrats' margin gets tighter — and others may follow. GOP leaders and financiers will pull out all the stops to take both legislative chambers next year, and they'll have more than momentum on their side. Of Louisiana's six term-limited state senators, five are white Democrats, and all hail from conservative areas.
And that's before new district lines get drawn as a result of the 2010 Census.
Federal law requires that new district boundaries not dilute minority voting strength, but that's no problem for Republicans. Every time a super-majority black district is created, nearly three super-majority white districts get drawn. Redistricting thus is a shining example of bipartisanship, Louisiana style, as white Republicans gladly help black Democrats create mutually safe seats. In addition to all that, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, which will draw new legislative districts, has a Republican majority.
Louisiana is among the few southern states without a Republican-dominated Legislature. That looks to change soon. As the The New York Times noted after Nov. 2, "the white Southern Democrat is a profoundly endangered species."