You can tell voters are tuned out of politics when they are more interested in issues like Medicare and the federal law on new light bulbs, two subjects I wrote about in this space recently. Unbelievably low voter turnouts are another sign that many people are simply fed up with government. Finally, there is the drift of voters away from the Democratic and Republican Party ranks to other parties or no parties.
A recent Medicare column in this space warned older Americans that when they are in the hospital they should always ask their doctor if they are an inpatient or an outpatient. If they are “under observation” and not an inpatient, it could cost them big money down the line. The light bulb piece talked about the complexity of buying newer and more expensive ways to light our homes and offices. Many aren’t happy with the government getting too deeply involved in their private lives.
The disinterest in politics is coming at a time when voting is going to be a big issue in Louisiana this year and again in 2015.
The headline race Nov. 6 involves U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s effort to secure a fourth six-year term in the Senate. At the moment, she is facing three Republican challengers — U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge, state Rep. Paul Hollis of Covington and retired U.S. Air Force Col. Rob Maness of Madisonville.
Landrieu won her first term in 1996, defeating Republican Louis “Woody” Jenkins by 5,788 votes. She beat Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell in 2002, winning with 52 percent of the runoff vote. Landrieu won her third term in the primary in 2008, picking up 52 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy.
Louisiana will elect a new governor in 2015. Gov. Bobby Jindal is limited to two terms. Candidates are already lining up for that one.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., announced his candidacy last week. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, R-Baton Rouge, and State Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, are also running. Other potential candidates include Kennedy, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat, and Republican Scott Angelle, a state public service commissioner. A dozen or more could be in the race by qualifying time.
Jindal won in both of his gubernatorial primaries. He polled 54 percent of the vote in 2007 and 66 percent in 2011. The voter turnout in 2007 was 46 percent, and that dropped to 36 percent in 2011. Turnout for a governor’s race in the 1970s and 1980s was in the 60 or 70 percent range.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler talked about declining voter turnout during an interview with The Advocate last November. Some of it has to do with the frustration people have with partisan politics in Washington, D.C., he said.
Louisiana’s voter registration is 85 percent of those eligible, Schedler said, among the tops in the nation. However, during October elections last year, turnout was pitiful, some as low as 6 or 7 percent.
“It’s depressing. It’s concerning,” Schedler told the newspaper. “In some ways the mere fact they didn’t go vote may be an expression of their frustration.”
Political professionals note the switch of party affiliation by many voters as more evidence of their frustrations with party politics. The state has 2.9 million voters. Democrats number 1.4 million of those, or 47 percent of the total. There are nearly 810,000 Republican voters, 28 percent of the total. Persons belonging to other parties or no parties total over 724,000, 25 percent of the total.
Calcasieu Parish pretty much mirrors the state in those voter registration percentages. It has 126,697 voters, and 46.5 percent of them (58,974) are Democrats. There are 33,602 Republicans (26.5 percent) and 34,121 in the other party or no party category (27 percent).
Some of the voter apathy we are seeing can be attributed to the fact citizens feel left out of the political process. Super political action committees that can raise unlimited funds for candidates are calling most of the shots. Wealthy donors — both liberal and conservative — end up with tremendous influence in election outcomes.
We have seen the work of super PACs in the anti-Landrieu and anti-Cassidy TV spots running constantly on TV, even though the election is still 10 months away.
The voter situation is much like the Super Bowl being played a week from today. It, too, is all about money. Corporations that buy blocks of tickets and the wealthy who can afford the outlandish ticket prices have put the game out of reach for ordinary Americans.
However, all is not lost when it comes to the role we can play in politics. We can refuse to let others dictate our political outcomes by taking back our cherished right to vote. As Schedler said, it’s a personal responsibility thing.
Those who elected Vance McAllister to Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District seat last October, though small in number, showed how it’s done. They surprised the political manipulators who had promoted their hand-picked candidate by electing a congressman who had never even visited Washington, D.C. It was McAllister’s first campaign for public office and he used his own money to run.
We can do what those voters did when the next Election Day rolls around.