Jim Beam column:Landry controls the session

Published 7:12 am Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Early information coming out of the special legislative session that began Monday indicates Republican Gov. Jeff Landry will apparently get everything he wanted from lawmakers.

The Advocate said, “Landry, at the peak of his powers one week after taking office, marshaled support from lawmakers before the session to achieve a trifecta of goals — drawing congressional districts that will satisfy his political allies, crafting a new Supreme Court map aligned with a plan offered by five of the court’s seven justices and jettisoning the jungle primary for some local elections and all state and federal elections.”

Landry wants a second majority-Black congressional district that Republican leaders hope will target U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, of the 6th Congressional District. The governor also wants to end the state’s open primary election system by returning to closed political party primaries.

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GOP leaders believe that Graves didn’t help House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, become House speaker. Graves also endorsed Republican Stephen Waguespack for governor in the race that Landry won.

The Advocate reported that state Sen. Glen Womack, R-Harrisonburg, is sponsoring the congressional redistricting bill favored by Landry. Womack confirmed his bill placed Graves in a majority-Black district and said he was protecting U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow, R-Start, of the 5th Congressional District — “my congresswoman.”

The newspaper said about 53.7% of the voting age population in Graves’ 6th District would be Black. U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, R-New Orleans, would have a 51% Black voter population in his 2nd Congressional District.

The Womack bill splits Calcasieu Parish into the 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts. Lake Charles, Iowa, and some Sulphur precincts would be in the 3rd District along with Cameron and Jeff Davis parishes. Westlake, Starks, DeQuincy and the other Sulphur precincts would be in the 4th District along with Allen, Beauregard, and Vernon parishes.

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Lafayette, represents the 3rd District and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Benton, represents the 4th District.

Although Landry likes Womack’s congressional redistricting bill, a coalition of civil rights groups that are suing to overturn the existing 5-1 congressional map held a news conference on the Capitol steps calling for lawmakers to approve a different map.

That map is sponsored by state Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, which would turn Letlow’s district into the second majority-Black district. It has Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jeff Davis, and most of Vernon Parish in the 3rd Congressional District.

Two polls have been done on whether the state should end its open primary system where all candidates, regardless of political party, run at the same time.

A poll done by Baton-Rouge based analyst John Couvillion for an organization supporting open primaries showed 65% of those surveyed said they prefer the state’s existing open primary system.

Landry released a poll Monday that showed 60% of voters believe the way Louisianans elect the president through closed primaries “makes more sense than what we do in state and local elections,” Landry’s political consultant said.

Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, is sponsoring the Landry-backed bill to close primary elections. However, local elections for sheriffs and district attorneys — who have questioned a change — would remain open.

Landry left no stone unturned to get what he wants. The newspaper said multiple lawmakers being considered last week for positions on the House Governmental Affairs Committee, which must pass primary-related bills before they appear before the full House, were vetted by Landry over their willingness to vote for closed primaries.

Clancy DuBos, political editor of the Gambit weekly newspaper, in a column in The Advocate, said, “Gov. Jeff Landry’s 14-item agenda for his first special legislative session calls to mind the rapacious power grabs of Huey Long, the tyrannical,  bombastic ‘Kingfish’ who ruled Louisiana with an iron fist nearly a century ago.”

DuBos said a closed primary election costs millions more every year and disenfranchises voters who are not registered Democrats or Republicans. Landry in his opening address to the Legislature said those nearly 822,000 voters — 27.6% of the electorate — could vote in the general election.

Yes, they can, but they have no voice when it comes to selecting those who become the candidates in the general election.

Readers would enjoy the DuBos column that talks about Gov. Landry’s “G-men.” They are businessmen Shane Guidry and Lane Grigsby, and Louis Gurvich, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party.

DuBos said Gurvich doesn’t have the cash or the cachet (prestige) of the other two men, but he has a bully pulpit to promote all things Landry.

Thanks to information provided by DuBos, The Advocate, and others, this special session promises to be a humdinger.