Republican Realignment: What Happens to the LAGOP

Aug 22, 2013

Republicans have reason to be wary of their newfound power in the state Senate, having recently gained a two-thirds supermajority. Some political analysts say too much power can backfire.

Kirby Goidel, a political communications professor at LSU, said with too much power, the GOP could turn-off voters or fracture.

Republicans, who gained control of the state House of Representatives in the 2010 election cycle, could have steamrolled the budget-making process. But a fiscally conservative sect, called the Fiscal Hawks, pushed for more conservative spending practices, while the other republicans wanted to hold on to tax incentives.

“I think we saw from the last session what happens as a party gains success is they often then splinter into factions," said Goidel, "So you have groups like the Fiscal Hawks coming together and saying that’s not what we ran for, that’s not what we wanted.”

Goidel said there’s a point of diminishing returns when one party gains power. Because it’s easier to get agenda items passed when one’s party is bigger, factions typically try to take advantage of that power.

Rep. Lance Harris is the leader of the Republican delegation in the House. He is also a member of the Fiscal Hawks. He says the party isn’t fracturing, they’re having a healthy debate.

"It’s only natural that you’re going to have discussions about anything that comes up legislatively," Harris said. "I believe that’s part of the process, and it’s something that we respect as a delegation."

Harris pointed out, the party did stick together to block federal dollars for expanding Medicaid.

Goidel said having a unified front may backfire, too. He compares political power to a thermostat.

“When the democrats get too much power and control," Goidel said, "or the room gets too hot, then voters turn the thermostat, then republicans get too much power and authority they turn it back up.”

The democrats are hoping to find an opportunity to mount a comeback. Karen Carter Peterson is a senator and the head of the state democratic party. Peterson, a frequent and vocal critic of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s policies, like vouchers, cuts to higher edudation and public/private hospital partnerships, hopes democrats will make a comeback in the 2015 governor’s race.

"When he leaves office we’re hopeful that in 2015," Peterson said, "a strong democrat gets elected governor to clean up."

Goidel says the next governor’s election will be vital in telling the political future of LA.

Will the thermostat tilt too far to the Republican side, urging voters to put a Democrat in office? Will the party fracture, and split the vote? Or will it be a stage for one of the Republican splinter groups to establish a firm direction for the party?

“You have a supermajority but who’s in charge?" Goidel asked. "Who’s going to get them to do, to move the policy in the direction you want it to go?”

Sen. Peterson has still another theory for what will turn the tide: voter education. Other Southern states are showing signs of growing more democratic, most dramatically in Texas. But the Texas electorate is growing minority and youth populations. Louisiana does not.

Democrats will have to find a way to convert residents that are already here, and republicans may help them do it.