Though few voters and reporters paid heed, the recent state treasurer’s race gave us a preview of how things might play out in the 2019 gubernatorial election.
By virtue of being the choice of 7 percent of the state’s 2.97 million voters, Republican John Schroder will be sworn as the state’s fourth highest official in a week or two. He expects to continue the policies and practices of longtime state treasurer, now U.S. senator, John Kennedy.
A comparative handful of voters Saturday chose Covington businessman John Schroder to be the state’s treasurer for the next two years.
But it’s the part of the largely technocrat post that Kennedy created – criticizing the fiscal policies of whoever happened to be governor – Schroder will most embrace.
Both Schroder’s victory and the way the vote fell are hurdles Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards will have to clear if he expects to win reelection.
Schroder will join Attorney General Jeff Landry as high-level GOP gadflies trying to chip away at the governor’s high favorability ratings: 53 percent market analyst Morning Consult reported in October.
Schroder, who ran on being Kennedy 2.0, says his salvos will not be because he thinks Edwards is doing a bad job, he doesn’t, but because he disagrees philosophically.
“The governor is doing a good job, but that depends on how you define that I guess,” Schroder said shortly before the election. He gave Edwards high marks for his stewardship during disasters.
“I have a different opinion on what government should do, that’s where I differ with him, but that’s philosophy, that’s not personal,” Schroder said.
He sponsored the legislation that created a blue ribbon task force whose goal was to figure out how to best restructure the policies and procedures state government uses to raise and spend public dollars. When the panel released its recommendations – expand the number of people and businesses taxed but lower the overall rates – Schroder said he was disappointed. He had wanted the task force to focus on reducing spending first.
Louisiana Republicans contend Edwards is the only Democratic governor in the Deep South largely because David Vitter was a flawed candidate. Conventional thinking is that a Democrat can win statewide office with a large turnout of black voters plus 30 percent of the whites. The former soldier, who is anti-abortion and pro-guns, did just that by reaching out to the more moderate factions of the faith-based community and comparing himself favorably to Vitter’s brand of vicious politics.
But can that be repeated in 2019? The state treasurer’s election underscores possible glitches.
Having the most realistic chance of becoming the first African American elected statewide since Reconstruction, New Orleans Democratic lawyer Derrick Edwards polled 44 percent of the total vote in the state treasurer’s race. He swamped Schroder in Orleans Parish with 80 percent of the votes cast. But, only 31.7 percent of the registered voters turned out in that parish even though New Orleans was choosing its first female mayor in history. Elsewhere, African American participation was even more anemic.
Take for instance Mall City, one of the most densely packed neighborhoods in Baton Rouge. Along the streets named after European master painters, like Titian and Renoir, live 1,647 registered voters – 93 percent of whom are African American. Among the 43 voters who cast ballots – a 2.6 percent turnout – Derrick Edwards won all but two.
Where once Louisiana balkanized along regional, religious and labor lines, the state’s politics are now broken along party lines that reveal unresolved racial tensions, said G. Pearson Cross, a political scientist with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Those stresses are articulated in competing views of government's role.
For African Americans it took federal courts and government policies to enforce anti-discrimination in schools and employment.
“That has created a well of resentment against the federal government (among many white voters). As much as Republicans try to hide the racial roots, in their animus to federal government those racial roots are revealed,” Cross said, adding that the result is voting booths have become as segregated as Louisiana churches.
State Rep. Randal Gaines, of LaPlace and a state Democratic Party leaders, says the party is trying to overcome racial dynamics by pursuing policies on which blacks and whites can agree. “We’re trying to recapture many of the voters we have lost to the Republicans with a new message: jobs, education, medical care and the vital needs that make a difference; things that will reach the average voters on their doorsteps.”
But will it do so quickly enough for the many white voters whose muscle reflex is flick the “R” switch?
Gaines thinks so. Cross is not so sure.
“John Bel Edwards is in exactly the same position he was in 2015, except he won’t run against a candidate with damaging baggage,” Cross said.