Jim Beam column: Election turnout was dismal

Published 6:10 am Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The election of Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry as Louisiana governor in Saturday’s primary wasn’t a major surprise. However, a dismal 35.8% voter turnout was a surprise, even lower than forecast by political experts.

The end result means that only 18.4% of the state’s nearly 2.97 million registered voters (less than one-fifth) elected Louisiana’s next governor. Voters have clearly tuned out politics in this state.

Turnout has been declining for years and the speaker stalemate in the U.S. House and the realization that Louisiana now belongs to former GOP President Donald Trump haven’t helped.

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When Democrat Edwin W. Edwards defeated Republican Dave Treen in the Oct. 22, 1983, primary, the voter turnout was 76.65%.

Voter turnout in the Oct. 24, 2015, primary that put Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and former Republican U.S. David Vitter into the Nov. 21, 2015, general election was 39.2%. The turnout for the runoff that Edwards won was 40.2%.

Interest picked up at the Oct. 12, 2019, primary when 45.9% got Edwards into the runoff with Republican Eddie Rispone. The Nov. 16, 2019, runoff narrowly won by Edwards brought out 51% of the registered voters.

While there are still some legislative runoffs on Nov. 18, Republicans are on their way to increasing their already two-thirds control of both the state House and Senate. Before the election, their Senate majority was 27-12, one over the 26 needed and the GOP had a 71-33 lead in the House, one over the 70 needed.

The future of state politics was expressed by The Advocate, which said that Landry, 52, will become the 57th governor of Louisiana by scoring a victory “that gives him a mandate to move Louisiana to the right with a like-minded Legislature.”

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser had an easy path to a third four-year term. He won with 66% of the vote to 20% for second-place finisher Democrat Willie Jones.

Republican Nancy Landry and Democrat “Gwen” Collins-Greenup are in the Nov. 18 runoff for secretary of state, each with 19% of the vote. Landry has the No. 2 job in the office. Collins-Greenup made two previous unsuccessful secretary of state runoffs — in 2019 and at a special election in 2018.

Republican “Liz” Baker Murrill, the current solicitor general in Jeff Landry’s attorney general office, and Democrat Lindsey Cheek are in the Nov. 18 runoff. Murrill, who was backed by many of Landry’s supporters, finished with 45% of the vote to 23% for Cheek.

Republican John Fleming, a former U.S. House Freedom Caucus member and Trump administration official, is in the state treasurer’s runoff with Democrat Dustin Granger of Lake Charles. Fleming polled 44% of the vote to 32% for Granger.

Republicans Kevin M. Berken and Erick Knezek will compete in the Nov. 18 runoff as candidates for the District 7 seat on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Berken finished the primary with 37% of the vote to 34% for Knezek.

Knezek served just under five years on the Lafayette Parish School Board. Berken served six years on the Our Lady Immaculate School Board in Jennings and four years on the Notre Dame School Board.

The Advocate called the primary “a meltdown for Democrats.” The voter turnout, for example, was just 27% in heavily Democratic Orleans Parish.

Three Democrats made the Nov. 18 runoffs and they are well-qualified candidates. Collins-Greenup is in the secretary of state contest. Cheek is in the attorney general runoff. Granger is in the state treasurer runoff.

Louisiana has 1.15 million Democratic voters to just over 1 million Republican voters. Those registering for other parties or no party number over 815,000. Many of those and Democrats are either voting Republican much of the time or they are staying home on election day.

Louisiana’s Democratic strategist James Carville, who helped elect President Bill Clinton, has been speaking tough lately about the far-left wing of his party. What he is saying explains why Democratic candidates in Louisiana and in other parts of the country are doing so poorly at the polls.

“I find the left to be just annoying,” Carville told Bill Maher when he appeared on Maher’s podcast, according to a report by Fox News. “The western far left is habitually the most stupid, naïve people you can imagine,” Carville said. They make up only 10% of the party, but he said they drag the entire party down.

Makes sense to me! And it’s a shame some good Democrats are paying a heavy price because of a small minority in their party.