A new political party could be on the horizon for Louisiana.
With the dawn of 2015, there no longer will be a legal ban on establishment of the independent party.
There’s enough self-identified “independents” on Louisiana voter rolls to meet registration requirements for party status. Now all that’s left is for someone to step forward to pay a $1,000 fee and file official organization documents.
And state Sen. Rick Gallot, whose legislation paved the way for the change, may well be that someone.
“A young lawyer I have been working with and I have been talking about possibly doing it,” said Gallot, a Ruston Democrat. “I’m not certain yet.”
Regardless, Gallot said he’s sure an independent party will be born before important fall 2015 elections for statewide offices, including governor, and for the Legislature.
Party certification would have to be completed 90 days before candidate sign-up begins.
Independent would become the sixth recognized party in Louisiana, joining the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green and Reform parties.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler said people have registered to vote as political independents for years.
“We have some 79,000 people registered independent, which is a significant number,” he said. “It only takes 1,000 people registered for someone to go file the official documents.”
That hurdle has been far surpassed, he said.
But whether those who self-identify as independents will consider themselves members of an independent party is another thing, Schedler said.
“Some people are saying, ‘I want flexibility. I don’t want to be characterized as a Republican or Democrat,’ ” he said.
Gallot and state Rep. Dee Richard, an independent from Thibodaux, started out with legislation under which candidates could be identified on the ballot as independent without a new party being formed. But in order to get anything close to what they wanted, the legislators had to go the official party route.
“The whole concept of being independent is not being constrained by party structure,” Gallot said. “The whole part of being independent is being independent. … I don’t think anybody wants to join something with rules like everybody else,” such as a charter, constitution and other trappings. The success of the independent party will depend on “whether it can be free of all the rules and constraints that have impacted how those two major parties are looked at,” he said.
The fastest-growing segment of registered voters identify themselves with neither of the two major political parties — Democratic or Republican. State records show more than 750,000 of Louisiana’s 2.94 million voters in the “other party” category. Also, voter surveys consistently show dissatisfaction with both the Democratic and Republican parties.
But whether either of those factors bode well for an independent party isn’t clear.
“There are a lot of people not inclined to be a part of the Democratic or Republican party. With an increasing number of people who are unaffiliated, there’s a group of people ripe for the picking,” said LSU political scientist Robbie Hogan.
Hogan noted that for candidates in certain election districts, it might be easier “for an ideological moderate to carve out a niche” with independent registrants.
“Maybe it’s a way to avoid this national partisanship that’s creeping into local and state elections. It’s saying, ‘I’m neither of those,’ ” Hogan said.
Schedler said Louisiana voters have shown an ability to elect nonparty-affiliated candidates. He noted legislators, including Richard, who have been elected more than once without a Democratic or Republican label. He said people vote for individuals who are respected in their communities.
Democratic Party Executive Director Stephen Handwerk said the most prominent Democratic vs. no party race this past year was the Shreveport mayor’s race, where the Democrat handily won.
“Running as an independent cuts the candidate off from accessing party resources like the voter file and coordinated campaign activities,” Handwerk said. “Voters want to understand and identify with candidates, and running as an independent only adds to the questions voters have.”
State Republican Party Executive Director Jason Doré said a lot of people like to consider themselves independent and not tied to a party. But they still want candidates to take stands on issues, he said.
“They are affiliated with a certain set of principles and beliefs in a party platform,” Doré said. “As an independent, the voter doesn’t really know what you stand for.”