A poll released this week sponsored by the Washington Post and ABC news finds that “72% of Americans believe that politicians cannot be trusted and two thirds think the countries political system is dysfunctional. A not insignificant share of folks openly embraced radicalism: 21% of those polled would rather ‘tear down’ the political system and ‘start over’ than try to fix it.” With these feelings running rampant with voters, it’s not surprising that outsiders who have never run for office like Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson are surging ahead of incumbent elected officials.
There are few states where voters are not rebelling against the status quo. “Throw the bums out” is the battle cry. “In the fall, fire ‘em all.” But what’s happening way down in the deepest of the deep southern states? Is there a political upheaval and open voter uprising taking place? Have a wave of new candidates emerged to bring down incumbency and shake up the political establishment? Hardly.
The typical reaction in the Bayou State, with a gubernatorial election just weeks away, might be summed up with a “Yawn…who are the Saints and the Tigers playing this weekend?” As of right now, it’s like the state is throwing an election party, with little interest and few who really care.
The qualifying period to run for office took place two weeks ago. Half of the legislative seats were filled with no challengers. Sixty-nine state legislators were returned to office unopposed. In fact 43% of all offices on the ballot were filled without opposition. So why all the apathy? Why aren’t more Louisiana citizens interested in running for public office at a time when support for those in office is so low? It’s a combination or reasons.
First, there is a pervasive feeling that nothing is really going to change. Remember the 60s song by the Who titled “Won’t Get Fooled again?” The lyrics say: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” To many voters, there is a pervasive feeling that it really doesn’t make any difference who gets elected.
A big factor for a challenger is raising campaign contributions. And as the old saying goes, money is the mother’s milk of politics. Incumbents begin raising money for the next campaign right after they get elected. New rules make it much easier for state and national PACs to pour campaign dollars into the coffers of legislators. Challengers campaign against the cesspool politics at the state capitol. But once elected, the cesspool turns into a hot tub of campaign dollars.
Elections have become so expensive, driven by the cost of media, particularly TV commercials. Until recently, even statewide candidates traveled the state to campaign, and never missed a fair or festival. “Retail politics” made it possible to run a campaign on a reasonable budget. No more. Legislative campaigns can often run $500,000 or more, an obscene amount of money. Many challengers have been priced out of the political market.
The governor’s race often sets the tone for issues for many legislative races. But the four major gubernatorial candidates have offered platitudes of generalities with few specifics for major government reform and restructuring. They each have rebuffed any comparison to the present highly unpopular governor, but offer few alternatives. The state is in terrible fiscal shape, healthcare needs a massive infusion of funds, and the state’s infrastructure has been crippled for lack of maintenance. Yet few details by any candidate have been set out in a master plan for reform.
Two other reasons have caused voters to “tune out” in this year’s election. The failure of the state Democratic Party to recruit new candidates and the fact that Louisiana politics is not all that much fun any more. We will explore these issues in a future column. As for now, don’t look for much excitement between now and Election Day in October.
"If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."
-- Emma Goldman
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.