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The Advocate editorial board speaks with Gov. John Bel Edwards in his 4th floor office during opening day at the Louisiana legislature Monday April 10, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

As an outlier politically in many ways, Louisiana has a tradition of nonpartisan politics in its Legislature, if less so in recent years in the delegation in Congress. Even long-serving U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu was rejected in 2014 because of a national political wave.

In the Legislature, however, party labels may be more meaningful than in past decades, but there is still a considerable bipartisan tradition. Unlike in many states, committee chairmen in the GOP-controlled House and Senate may be either Democrats or Republicans in Baton Rouge.

But the relatively obscure issue of drawing new district lines may hype up the partisanship in our elections for the Legislature in 2019, an LSU professor says.

An expert on political remapping, Brian Marks told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that strong Republican gains in the U.S. House followed the aggressive remapping of districts — because the GOP had invested heavily in campaigns to elect state legislators across the nation. The state legislators, in turn, drew district lines favoring Republican candidates for the U.S. House.

Marks told the Press Club that the Republicans having discovered the virtue of campaign investment in legislators, making big gains since 2010, Democrats are now very likely to try to rebalance those scales.

We don’t know if state campaigns will be illuminated by the kind of partisan ads and mudslinging that have become standard in national politics. State issues, after all, are more local in nature. But the prediction that national political money will be more engaged in state legislative races appears to be borne out by the Virginia elections, where Democrats pushed back against a GOP majority in that state’s General Assembly.

Democrats picked up three seats in Georgia, as well as seats in Michigan, New Hampshire and several other states. Still, far from a big comeback: "During the Obama administration, Democrats lost almost 1,000 state legislative seats," Steven Rogers, an expert on legislative elections at St. Louis University, told Governing magazine.

Those off-year elections may or may not predict Democratic gains in 2018, when larger numbers of state legislative seats are contested across the nation. Louisiana does not elect its legislators until 2019, in the same election in which Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards seeks a second term. But given that we are one of the few states having elections that year, our local contests may loom larger nationally. There is also significant turnover in the state House, particularly, because of term limits in the 2019 election.

We don’t know if national political activists will suddenly become gripped by partisan struggles in Shongaloo or St. Bernard, but as Marks said, the national parties now understand the political advantages of controlling legislatures, because of their influence over remapping after the 2020 Census.

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