Louisiana’s recent state election results gave cheer to political consultants and fuel to conspiratorial-minded education reform opponents.
Those who make money from political candidacies saw their bottom lines suffer in 2007 and 2011, years that lacked gubernatorial election runoffs. But in the 2015 contest initially believed to be a coronation for Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter that would provide little excitement, Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards polled well enough last week to cause both sides to ramp up runoff election spending.
Edwards, racking up 40 percent of the vote to Vitter’s 23 percent, belies the inevitability of a Vitter victory. An analysis of precinct totals reveals how Edwards can create an upset.
In precincts with almost all white registrants, he received a fifth of that vote; he’ll need at least a quarter of that to win. In those where white Democrats comprised well over half of all registrants, he pulled in a third of those votes, while in those where Republicans encompassed a supermajority, he managed only an eighth. This implies little vote growth opportunity among Republicans, but much more fertile possibilities for him among white Democrats, where, numerically, he puts himself in a position to win by boosting his haul to half of them.
Yet, even with this improvement, Edwards still would fall short. Because he drew only seven-eighths of the vote in precincts composed almost entirely of black registrants, either he will need to do much better among those voters — or hope that their turnout, which lagged the participation rate of white people by 10 points, increases sharply. Edwards has another problem. The supermajority GOP precincts had a turnout more than 20 points below historical averages, meaning that Vitter has available plenty of idled partisans he can attempt to activate.
Edwards remains an underdog, but he has a chance to win that seemed impossible prior to the general election results. While this result buoyed him, advertisers and the political campaign industry, the final numbers from contests for the Legislature and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education crushed agendas to derail Common Core and to reverse recent education reforms.
Returning legislators, a majority of whom last term favored Common Core, will fill most of the Legislature’s seats. The mix of re-elected incumbents and newcomers to BESE who support Common Core will number at least six, a majority, with perhaps more after runoff elections. Even with the opposition of the incoming governor, Common Core is here to stay.
Educational reforms that expanded school choice and strengthened school and teacher accountability won’t go away, either. The six BESE winners, by their past actions or current pledges, assured voters these reforms would continue, to the consternation of their opponents, which included two incumbent BESE members. However, because of large advantages in campaign resources enjoyed by the winners, be prepared to hear from the defeated reactionaries and their allies about how shadowy forces “bought” the election.
Their assertion distracts from the truth. The ideologues who demand increased spending on education with weaker measures to improve performance want to avoid the change needed to invigorate a system that, for decades, saddled Louisiana’s children with among the worst educations in the country. Adjusted for cost of living, Louisiana at $12,375 tax dollars per pupil (latest 2012 data) ranked 20th among the states and District of Columbia in spending, by far the most in the South. By contrast, on NAEP standardized tests from 2011 to present, Louisiana students scored 47th on average among their peers.
This election wasn’t “bought” by education reformers. It was decided by voters tired of spending inefficiently on an underperforming education system.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics (www.between-lines.com) and, when the Louisiana Legislature is in session, another about legislation in it (www.laleglog.com). Follow him on Twitter @jsadowadvocate. Write to him at email@example.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.