As the Louisiana Democratic Party virtually has washed out in statewide offices this fall, the party’s activists rightly can wonder what they can do about their party’s status. Some are looking back to the days when Republicans were a marginal political minority and taking inspiration from no less than Dave Treen.
The late governor was the breakthrough Republican candidate when even the voting system conspired against the GOP. Because Democratic primaries elected most offices, registrars sometimes discouraged young people from registering Republican because there were few races contested by GOP candidates in a general election.
While a few pioneers, such as Charlton Lyons, of Shreveport, in 1963-64, waged races statewide, Treen was the historic icebreaker. The Metairie Republican persistently advocated for conservative principles in a series of losing races, but eventually was rewarded with a victory for the U.S. House in 1972 and then the governorship in 1979.
This ancient history was dredged up in the Democratic blog The Daily Kingfish. Blogger Lamar Parmentel noted that Treen’s advocacy of party principles, even in losing races, eventually paid off.
“Even despite being the minority party for decades, Republicans fought to forward their ideals upon the electorate, even if they were constantly rejected,” Parmentel said. “What will the Democratic Party do when that is their only option? That time seems to be approaching. The time when Democratic politics is an unpopular, but legitimate, alternative with a few passionate believers hoping to one day recapture popular opinion.”
As with many others disgruntled in the grass roots, Parmentel called for replacing the party leadership with a “determined core of individuals that want to win the argument about ideas.”
Any discussion about change usually begins with a satisfying purge of existing officials; Republicans were famous for factionalism when their party membership filled only the proverbial phone booth.
Is that really the problem with the Democratic decline?
Obviously, the point of a two-party system is that both parties will be healthy enough to present alternatives to the voters at the ballot box. That’s not the case now with the Democrats, as they face the fall elections with a dearth of viable statewide candidates.
While there is a Democrat in teacher Tara Hollis, of Haynesville, challenging Gov. Bobby Jindal, she came into the race without the backing of the state party. The party desperately sought a wealthier candidate who could write a substantial check to the campaign and the party to take on the well-heeled Jindal campaign. Party Chairman Buddy Leach, of Lake Charles, said the party would focus on legislative and local races this fall.
But we see the larger issue facing the party less as a matter of officials and candidates but message.
What ideas are central to the Democratic Party in Louisiana today?
The Democrats during qualifying week were in a desperate last-minute search for candidates.
Perhaps they should be defining first what their alternative might be.
The GOP, rightly or wrongly for the public interest, has come a long way with the slogan “lower taxes and less government.” Such a pithy statement of Democratic plans isn’t apparent to us, even if we believe — as we did in the days when Democrats were all-powerful — that a genuine two-party system is good for Louisiana.