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Analysis: Louisiana’s latest election has useful takeaways

November 9, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s latest election offers lessons — or at least reminders — for the state’s politicians and their consultants: Money doesn’t always determine outcome, bipartisanship still can win races, and voters really like those stickers proving they went to the polls.

While the state lacked the many high-profile, heavily contested races seen around the nation, wall-to-wall national news coverage and intensity seemed to drive voters to the polls in Louisiana as well, with turnout reaching an unexpected 49 percent statewide.

That’s more enthusiasm than for the heated primary competition for Louisiana governor in 2015, when 342,000 fewer people showed up to cast their ballots.

A few takeaways from Tuesday’s results:

—The nine-person special election for secretary of state was a reminder that money can buy you exposure, but it can’t buy you the job. Candidates still need a motivating message and a base of voter support fired up about getting them elected.

The candidate who raised and spent the most in the race, Republican state Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner, finished fifth. Stokes spent more than $430,000 ahead of the primary, including some of her own money, according to campaign finance reports filed so far. The GOP contender who reached the Dec. 8 runoff, interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, spent half that amount. The Democrat in the runoff, lawyer Gwen Collins-Greenup, raised less than $3,000.

—The push for a constitutional change ending Louisiana’s use of non-unanimous juries to convict people of serious felony crimes demonstrates that while bipartisanship may be increasingly rare in elections and politics, it’s still possible — and it can lead to victories. The amendment drew diverse, broad-based support and financial backing across the political spectrum. The conservative Koch network organization Americans for Prosperity backed the measure, along with the American Civil Liberties Union. And voters responded, overwhelmingly agreeing to scrap a split-jury provision dating from the era of racial segregation.

—Louisiana voters didn’t oust any congressional members, but the reshuffling of power nationally will impact the state. With control of the U.S. House shifting to Democrats, Louisiana might be at a bit of disadvantage. Of its six House members, five are in the GOP.

As the third-ranking Republican in the chamber, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Jefferson Parish had been poised to move even higher, possibly reaching the speaker’s gavel. Now, he’ll remain in leadership, but in the minority party of a chamber not known for bipartisanship. However, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, Louisiana’s lone Democrat in the delegation, has positioned himself as a power player as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. He’s exiting that position soon, but stands to remain influential and possibly assume another leadership job.

—Turnover continues in the Louisiana Legislature, as politicians staring down term limits chase other elected positions and lawmakers tired after 10 legislative sessions over three years look for different places to land. Six state House members won elections to other offices Tuesday. Reps. Marcus Hunter of Monroe and Chris Hazel of Pineville won judgeships; Reps. Kenny Havard of West Feliciana Parish and Major Thibaut of Pointe Coupee Parish won parish president jobs; Rep. Bob Hensgens of Abbeville was elected to a vacant Senate seat; and Rep. Jeff Hall was chosen as Alexandria’s newest mayor.

—Widespread support for a ballot measure to allow Louisiana residents to play online fantasy sports for cash prizes likely shows that people in the state don’t view sports gaming the way they see video poker and casinos. Voters in 47 of 64 parishes agreed to legalize the online fantasy sports competitions. Supporters of legalized sports betting hope that’s a sign they can win backing for a proposal to allow wagering on games.

—On a minor issue, the secretary of state’s office clearly received its own message from voters: stickers matter. The office was targeted for complaints when voters showed up to polling sites and found in some instances they weren’t leaving with an “I Voted” sticker to post in selfies to social media accounts. Never mind that the secretary of state’s office hasn’t regularly provided those stickers year after year, the agency drew the ire of people anyway.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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