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Sea Changes 

Regardless of whether Bobby Jindal has won the governor's race outright or has to face John Georges in the Nov. 17 runoff, the political landscape in Louisiana will see big changes between now and Inauguration Day, January 14. Jindal might be a poster boy for the 'new" Louisiana, but he's a symptom, not the cause. Several factors have combined to create a perfect storm, as it were, for this sea change. Chief among them are the 2005 hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, and legislative term limits. The storms triggered much of today's statewide voter dissatisfaction, whereas term limits were a result of voter unrest back in the mid-1990s. Legislative term limits are just now kicking in.

Add to that incendiary combination the huge Republican push on behalf of Jindal " particularly the $11 million-plus that he raised and spent in his campaign " and you have all the makings of a political bonfire.

If Jindal has won the race on Saturday (I'm writing this on Friday), many will declare it a great victory for the GOP, and indeed it will be a great win. Some no doubt will point to the GOP 'near sweep" of the statewide races and say that Louisiana has finally 'gone Republican."

I think that would be an overstatement, and I don't say that in any way to detract from the significance of what the GOP has done.

Look back to the 2003 elections and you'll see my point. A mere four years ago, all but one of the seven statewide winners were Democrats; some were holding requiems for the GOP. Those funerals were premature " as will be the declarations that the Republicans have 'taken over" this time. Election cycles are just that. The pendulum swings back and forth; neither party ever has an iron grip on Louisiana, and neither ever falls completely off the continental shelf.

Of much greater significance than either party's temporary hold on the reins of power is the shift in voter attitudes " and possibly voting patterns " as well as the sea of new faces that will show up in the legislative halls in January because of term limits.

Let's start with the impact of term limits.

In the House, at least 56 seats will be filled with freshmen " and that's before the first votes are counted. It's entirely possible that upwards of 60 percent of the House (maybe even two-thirds) will be freshmen. In the Senate, a near majority (possibly a majority) will likewise be newcomers, though some will be rising from the House. That's almost twice the size of what we used to call a 'significant" turnover. To some, this is a scary proposition. To most voters, it's exactly what they wanted: new blood.

Which brings us to Newton's Third Law: For every action, there's an equal (in size) and opposite (in direction) reaction force.

Huh?

Newton was talking about bodies in motion or at rest, but you can apply that principle to political bodies as well. Tossing out all the old incumbents also tosses out lots of institutional knowledge " and power. Replacing that knowledge will occur naturally over time, but nature abhors a vacuum, particularly a power vacuum. Who will fill that void? Probably two types of people: staff (read: bureaucrats) and lobbyists. Neither group answers to voters.

In politics, as in life, be careful what you ask for. (FYI, I support term limits, but I don't see them as a panacea.)

Now let's examine the shift in voter attitudes and voting patterns.

As I write this, I don't have access to Saturday's election returns. But, it will be interesting to see what the African-American turnout was, both statewide and in New Orleans.

Statewide, many expected the 'differential" to be at least 15 percentage points; that is, black turnout would be at least 15 percent lower than white turnout, mostly because there was no black candidate or cause driving black turnout in the primary.

In New Orleans, politicos are watching black turnout closely because it could be a harbinger of whether displaced black voters still feel engaged enough to vote here. If they do, that's great news for local black elected officials. If they don't, New Orleans will see a sea change all its own.

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