Calcasieu is voting bellwether

PICKING WINNERS — Calcasieu Parish since 1936 has picked gubernatorial winners all but two times, the latest coming in the Nov. 16 runoff won by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Calcasieu Parish has voted for the winning candidate for governor, with two exceptions, in every election since 1936. The last exception came Saturday when Calcasieu Parish voters gave Republican Eddie Rispone 52 percent of the vote to 48 percent for Gov. John Bel Edwards, who won statewide with 51 percent of the vote.

“As Calcasieu goes, so goes the state” was the headline on a story written for the American Press in 1990 by the late Jerry Doty, a faculty member of the Loyola University Institute of Politics at the time. Doty talked about Calcasieu being a bellwether parish, which is defined as being an indicator or predictor of something.

The other time Calcasieu voted for a losing gubernatorial candidate was in 1979 when Louis Lambert won the parish over Republican Dave Treen. Treen became the first GOP governor in the state since Reconstruction after the Civil War.

Doty noted that the late Sam Jones, his son Bobby Jones and the late former district attorney Frank Salter all lived in Calcasieu Parish when they ran for governor.

Sam Jones became governor when he defeated Earl Long in 1940. When Jones ran again in 1948, Doty said he lost Calcasieu — and the state — to the same Earl Long. Bobby Jones and Salter were unsuccessful candidates. Former Calcasieu D.A. Richard Ieyoub was also unsuccessful in his 2003 bid for governor.

A look back at voting patterns since Doty wrote his story shows how the state and Calcasieu Parish have backed the winning candidates since 1991. They were together when Edwin W. Edwards won an unprecedented fourth term in 1991, when Mike Foster won in 1995 and 1999, when Kathleen Blanco won in 2003, when Bobby Jindal won in 2007 and 2011 and when John Bel Edwards won in 2015.

Doty said to understand why Calcasieu is the bellwether it was important to first review the demographics and economic structure of Louisiana. In all other Deep South states, he said there was an ethnic majority. That majority was white, of Anglo-Saxon heritage and Protestant.

Louisiana had no ethnic majority in 1990, Doty said, and only about 40 percent of its people were white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Another 25 percent were white Latin Catholics of French, Spanish and Italian descent. Blacks made up about 30 percent of the population.

Doty said the other 5 percent were everything from Yugoslavs in Plaquemines Parish to Hungarians in Livingston Parish; Germanic people in Acadia, St. James, St. John and St. Charles parishes; and the Belgians in Rapides Parish.

The state, he said, also had Lebanese, Native Americans, Vietnamese, Syrians, Jews, Irish, Filipinos, Greeks and many others who gave the state a melting pot flavor. He even mentioned that Jefferson Parish had a sheriff of Chinese descent.

Doty said it was doubtful that Calcasieu had any ethnic majority in politics. He named parish officials at the time, saying only one was French. Just 60 miles away, he said, Lafayette Parish had 6 of 10 public officials with French names.

“The point is Calcasieu had too many Anglos to be like South Louisiana and too many white, Latin Catholics to be like North Louisiana,” Doty said.

The parish had a lower black population than the state in 1990, but Doty said there were many union members in the parish that often voted for the same candidates as blacks.

“Calcasieu is the bellwether because it has a good mix of ethnics, just like the state,” he said.

Doty said what people do for a living also affects their candidate selection. Like the state, the economy of Calcasieu was varied, he said, and it was not dependent on one or two industries or one or two agricultural products.

Education and income levels also influence how a person votes, and Doty said Calcasieu and the state were similar. In 1990, the per-person income for the state was $11,191 a year, compared to $11,065 in Calcasieu, which was just $126 below the state average.

Calcasieu’s median education level was 12.3 years of schooling in 1990. Doty said it was 9.9 years in Evangeline Parish and 9.7 years in Assumption, much too low to be like the state. The East Baton Rouge level was 12.7 years and it was 12.6 years in Lincoln Parish.

“Calcasieu Parish is more like the state as a whole than any other parish in the state,” Doty said.

Doty did an interesting follow-up in September of 1990 about the 1955-56 campaign for governor. He said, “In the mid-1950s there were two rules of Louisiana politics that had not been broken since the 1920s — to be elected governor, you could not be Catholic or from New Orleans.”

Edwin Edwards had converted to his wife’s Roman Catholic faith and broke that rule when he won the 1971 gubernatorial election. Doty said former New Orleans Mayor Delesseps “Chep” Morrison was a candidate in the 1955-56 campaign, and the second rule remained unbroken.

Doty said, “Calcasieu Parish — and the state — went for Earl Long.”

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