In the wake of a bipartisan national political summit at Tulane University last month, we asked local pols about Louisiana's partisan climate, which seems unrecognizable compared to that of Washington, D.C. For instance, in Louisiana, Democrats control the Legislature but a Republican sleeps in the Governor's Mansion. A Dem presides over the Senate but the House speaker is a GOP. The Bayou State just marches to a different drum; personalities and allegiances frequently trump party labels, making a unique political environment. The election of November 2008 also revealed just how uncommitted Louisiana voters can be to parties. That ballot resulted in GOP presidential nominee John McCain and Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu both winning by significant margins, though McCain got 159,000 more votes than Landrieu. Baton Rouge political consultant Michael Smith says one of the main reasons we haven't seen the party divide here is because Louisiana doesn't have party primaries on the local level. "That's when you get heavy red and blue lines," Smith says. "We're just now getting used to congressional primaries, having been conditioned so long to vote in jungle primaries where the top two vote-getters advance."
While Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of the Legislature have organized caucuses and sometimes vote as blocs, the kind of partisan rancor that some say is poisoning national politics hasn't quite poisoned the political waters in Louisiana — at least not yet. Kirby Goidel, director of LSU's Public Policy Research Lab, says the lab's 2010 annual survey may poll the issue ("Is there a problem with partisan politics in Louisiana?"), but he doesn't expect the responses to stand out. "It'll probably register as an issue for a few people, but I don't think it will be overwhelming," he says. "Yet there are definitely more people in Louisiana, I would think, that are beginning to recognize that decisions in the state are increasing being made for party rather than policy reasons." — Jeremy Alford