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Thursday, 30 December 2010 15:55

Louisiana GOP Villere Expects Demo Switches, Republicans To Rule Senate

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Christopher Tidmore, Louisiana Politics
      When then-State Senator Noble Ellington faced term limits in 2007, friends asked him what his future plans would be.  His answer, to run for the State House, a body in which he previously served, and become its Speaker--as a Democrat.
             That Ellington did not succeed, it was not for lack of trying.   The Republicans were on the ascendancy after that election.  With Bobby Jindal as the new GOP Governor, the State House Republican caucus cut a deal with several Democrats, including New Orleans-area Black Caucus members, to elect Algiers GOP Rep. Jim Tucker as the first Republican Speaker since reconstruction, despite a nominal Democratic majority in the lower house.

             That did not daunt Ellington, who over two years later, very nearly achieved election as Speaker Pro Tem.  In fact, all reports agree that Ellington had sufficient support to win, up to the vote, where Tucker managed to get several defecting Republicans to back his choice, Independent Joel Robideaux, out of an appeal to GOP party loyalty.
             Ellington lost simply because he was a Democrat.   It did not matter that he was one of the most popular members of the legislature--in both houses.  As Democratic consultant 'Mudcat' Sanders noted after the fall elections, it has become "cultural unacceptable in the South" to be a Democrat--at least for a moderately conservative Caucasian.  Ellington learned that the "D" behind his name is a receipe for defeat.
             When two other fixtures of Democratic politics in Louisiana for decades,  John Alario of Westwego and John Smith of Leesville, switched to the GOP, Ellington felt like he had little choice.   His decision delivers the Louisiana State House a Republican majority for the first time since the post-Civil War period, and Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere, in an address to the Professional Republican Women of New Orleans right before Christmas, revealed that he expects the State Senate to go Republican BEFORE the November 2011 elections.
             "I fully expect that several Senators will decide to switch parties in the coming months, giving us a majority," he told the assembled lady-activists.  Currently, Ellington's switch gives the Republicans a 53-52 edge in the House. Democrats still control the state Senate with 20 seats compared to 18 for Republicans.
           For those GOP Women assembled who worried that the incoming Democrats would provide little conservative aide to the long-time Republican colleagues, Villere added, "I would rather the moderates be working with us, as opposed to working with the liberals."
             The Chairman euphemistically referred to the redistricting process, which will not only affect Congressional districts (due to Louisiana's loss of a seat), but to the redraw of House and Senate seat lines after the population redistributions post-Katrina/Rita/Gustav.
            The Republican desire for a majority of safe seats matched with the need (under the Voting Rights Act) to reserve nearly a third of the districts for African-American super-majorities, promises to wipe White Democrats effectively off the map in Louisiana.  
             With population losses, the pro-GOP cultural drift of the White Community, and the result of drawing most African-American voters in Louisiana into 60+% Black super-majority seats, what remains, both by desire and effect, essentially becomes a potential 2/3 GOP majority in both Houses of the legislature.
              This has the long term potential of allowing the Republicans to put constitutional restrictions of spending growth into the basic law, and moving Louisiana in a far more conservative statutory direction.   Short term, though, the numeric realities have caused White moderate Democrats to flee from their party or face certain defeat, if not this fall, then--for sure--in future elections.
             Ellington argued that the party switch will do little to affect his voting record. "It's historically significant," the District 20 State Rep. said, "but the truth is I've been a conservative for my entire career, so it won't affect the way I vote."
            "I found myself farther and farther away from what has become the liberal philosophy of the national party," Ellington continued. "My way of thinking, which falls along a more conservative line, has been shrinking within the party. At least nationally, the Republican Party seems to fit my philosophy more than the current Democratic Party."  
          {Ellington served in the state House from 1988 to 1995, and in the state Senate from 1996 until 2007. Term limits kept him from running for the Senate again, and he won back his old House seat.  In 2011, he will serve as national chairman of the 2,000-member American Legislative Exchange Council}
           Chairman Villere said of the switch.  "For more than 100 years the Louisiana House of Representatives has remained under Democrat control, but today that has all come to an end.  In just three short years a 16-seat Democrat majority has been erased and Rep. Ellington's decision to become the 53rd Republican in the House gives the GOP our first controlling majority in that body since Reconstruction."
          "This is a great and historic day for the Republican Party of Louisiana and I'm pleased to welcome Rep. Ellington to the new conservative majority in the House."
          Louisiana is not the only southern state where Democrats are defecting.   In Alabama, four Democrats announced last month they were joining the GOP, giving Republicans a supermajority in the House that allows them to pass legislation without any support from the other party. In Georgia, eight Democratic state lawmakers have switched allegiance to the GOP since Nov. 2.
         Republican Speaker of the House Jim Tucker called the GOP takeover historic.  "We're excited to have Noble in the party and ecstatic about holding the majority," Tucker said. "We as Republicans can continue to push for smaller, more efficient government, and we have the numbers to pass legislation that can do that if we stick together.
        "It's incredible that when I started in the House (in 2001) that we have more than doubled our numbers and indicative of where the state in going. It's also a tribute to those who preceded us to helped build the party in this state, in particular (U.S. Sen.) David Vitter."
         Interestingly, Tucker was asked which individuals made the GOP majority possible.  He named Villere, Vitter, and serveral others. Noticeably absent from the list was Bobby Jindal.   When asked about the Republican Governor's role, Tucker responded simply, "I've named the list."
         The comment is only further indication that regardless of the partisan nature of the legislature, the peripatetic--and often absent--governor faces what could be still a hostile legislative session this spring, despite the pro-GOP fervor.
Christopher Tidmore is on the radio weekdays from 7-8 AM on WSLA 1560 AM New Orleans and KKAY 1590 AM Baton Rouge, online at


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