Elections afford the ultimate opportunity to study human behavior and decision making. No two elections are alike, but the stakes are almost always the same, especially when the race for the White House tops the ballot: Everything is in play.
For almost three decades I have published my list of "Winnas" and "Loozas," and I typically write from a local rather than national perspective. After my column last week concluded that "all politics is national" these days, I decided to include a few national winnas and loozas this time.
Another change — this time, at least — reflects the near-dead heat on the question of whether to renew tolls on the Crescent City Connection. At press time, the tolls were passing by a mere 8 votes out of nearly 309,000 cast, but some military and overseas ballots were yet to be counted in Orleans Parish. I therefore added a new category for purposes of this analysis: Hanging Chads. At some point, the referendum will be decided — perhaps by a recount, perhaps by the courts. (Note: I will update this column online at bestofneworleans.com as soon as all votes are counted.)
And so we begin with ...
1. Charter School Advocates — Two of the three new faces on the Orleans Parish School Board (Sarah Usdin and Leslie Ellison) have strong ties to the local charter movement. The third new face, Nolan Marshall Jr., does not oppose charters per se. Usdin's race more than any other put charter schools at the center of an election. Statewide, voters last week imposed term limits on all Louisiana school boards, which will help charter advocates elect more allies to local school boards. Another interesting twist on the New Orleans school board races: The two board members who fought each other the most during the past four years — Brett Bonin and Thomas Robichaux — both lost.
2. New Faces — At almost every turn in local races — from the Court of Appeal to 2nd City Court, from the school board to the New Orleans City Council — newbies carried the day. This is not unheard of, but it is unusual, and it always reflects a paradigm shift in local politics.
3. Louisiana Republicans — The Bayou State remains politically counter-cyclical. Mitt Romney failed to capture the White House, but the state GOP still holds five of six congressional seats and probably will pick up a seat on the state Supreme Court. Everywhere outside New Orleans, Republicans pretty much boxed out the Democrats in major elections.
4. Gun Rights Advocates — Despite opposition from the news media, sheriffs and district attorneys, gun advocates (particularly the NRA) won big with the passage of Amendment 2. The amendment makes it more difficult (but not impossible) to restrict gun ownership and possession in Louisiana by requiring gun restrictions to meet a higher constitutional standard ("strict scrutiny") when challenged in court.
5. Mayor Mitch Landrieu — Just about every candidate Hizzoner endorsed either won outright or made it to a runoff last Tuesday. He also played a major role in the push to renew the bridge tolls. Unlike his predecessor, this mayor's got coattails.
6. Environmental Trial Lawyers — In the special election to succeed Chief Justice Kitty Kimball (in a Baton Rouge-based district), environmental plaintiff lawyers backed Republican appellate Judge Jeff Hughes with a huge "independent" ad campaign on his behalf. The attorneys behind so-called "legacy lawsuits" have taken a beating in recent legislative sessions, but they could turn their fortunes around by electing friends to the state Supreme Court. Hughes looks to be their ticket. He's in a Dec. 8 runoff against fellow appellate Judge John Michael Guidry, a black Democrat. The runoff is expected to see a much lower black and Democratic turnout than last Tuesday's presidential race.
7. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond — It was no surprise that the New Orleans congressman won re-election against four challengers in his redrawn district. What many didn't notice was the hand he played in helping several down-ballot candidates. Richmond's friend and former classmate Edwin Shorty Jr. narrowly defeated veteran 2nd City Court Constable Ennis Grundmeyer in Algiers, and Dana Kaplan's strong showing in the District B City Council race also owed in part to Richmond's support.
8. Lakefront Advocates — Supporters of the so-called non-flood assets along the lakefront won big with the overwhelming vote to renew the Orleans Levee District millage for 30 years. The regional levee board tried to put the millage renewal on the ballot without any money for the non-flood assets (including Lakeshore Drive, Lakefront Airport, two marinas and more), but state Sen. Ed Murray forced the board to dedicate a portion of the millage to those assets.
9. Private Nursing Homes — The nursing home industry historically wields a lot of clout with state lawmakers, and passage of Amendment 1 puts one of their primary funding sources in the state constitution, thereby rendering it "untouchable" during lean budget years. Something about the sound of "The Louisiana Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly" sounded sacred — but the amendment actually was "The Trust Fund for Private Nursing Homes."
Now for some national "winnas."
• Democratic Women — The Senate will now have 20 women members, a record. Four of the five new women in the Senate are Democrats (the exception: Deb Fischer of Nebraska). While Mitt Romney carried Missouri, the "Show Me" state re-elected Democrat Claire McCaskill over GOP challenger U.S. Rep. Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin. Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts beat Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, who previously won a special election to succeed the late Ted Kennedy. Dem Mazie Hirono of Hawaii beat the state's former GOP Gov. Linda Lingle. And Dem Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin became the first openly gay candidate in history to win a U.S. Senate seat.
• Same-Sex Marriage Proponents — Voters in Washington, Maryland and Maine ratified gay marriage in their states. That's the first time such unions have been blessed by popular vote rather than court decisions. Meanwhile, Minnesota voters beat back an attempt to write anti-same-sex marriage language into that state's constitution. Same-sex marriage will now be legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, and Barack Obama is the first president to express his support for same-sex marriage.
• Young Voters — Despite anecdotes about youth apathy, voters under 30 turned out in greater numbers than they did in 2008. Exit polls showed 60 percent of them voted for President Obama.
Which brings us to ...
1. Gov. Bobby Jindal — Mitt Romney's loss guarantees that our ambitious governor will not be leaving Louisiana soon, except to continue his travels in pursuit of The Next Big Thing for Bobby. Worse yet for Jindal, for the first time in his political career, he will have to face the consequences of his policy decisions before moving on to another job. Does he care? I'm betting we won't see much more of him in the next three years than we've seen in the past four months. All those recent campaign stops weren't for Mitt Romney; they were for Bobby Jindal '16. In addition to having to trudge through the next three years as governor, however, Jindal must deal with the fact that the nation is moving toward the middle, not farther to the right. That means he could be past his "sell by" date when 2016 finally rolls around.
2. Local Incumbents — From the judiciary to the school board, New Orleans incumbents fared very badly last Tuesday. Three of the six Orleans Parish School Board members who sought re-election lost — all to people who had never run for office before. On the bench, 4th Circuit Court of Appeal Chief Judge Charles Jones lost to an unknown who had previously lost several races for district court judgeships. (Many suspect Jones "took a dive" in that race because his challenger, Sandra Cabrina Jenkins, once clerked for Jones and they have remained close since then.) Appellate Judge Paul Bonin was re-elected automatically when his opponent withdrew, but she pulled out too late to have her name taken off the ballot. She got more votes than Bonin — even though they didn't count.
3. Louisiana Democrats — As if we needed more proof that when the rest of the country zigs, Louisiana zags: The state Democratic party couldn't get a single candidate into a regional or congressional runoff against a Republican.
4. The Algiers Courthouse Crowd — The Powers That Be in Algiers lost all three positions at 2nd City Court, which has been a staple of their political clout for decades. Those positions — constable, clerk and judge — have for years been held by whites with strong ties to the Old Guard. Going forward, blacks will hold all three posts. One exception to the Courthouse Gang's defeat: In the clerk's race, state Sen. David Heitmeier broke with the Old Guard to help Darren Lombard defeat Adam Lambert, an ally of 2nd City Court Judge KK Norman.
Here are the national "loozas."
• Grumpy Old White Men — Some say that's pretty much who comprises — or at least runs — the GOP. If that's true, they were big losers. As one GOWM told me last week, "We are no longer relevant nationally." New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof put the GOP's quandary in perspective, writing, "America needs a plausible center-right opposition party to hold Obama's feet to the fire, not just a collection of Tea-Party cranks."
• Conservative SuperPACs — Big money donors poured hundreds of millions of dollars poured into SuperPACs, many of them controlled or heavily influenced by Republican strategist Karl Rove. In the end they had little to show for it. Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson alone sank tens of millions into eight races, and came up 0 for 8.
• Male Chauvinism — Several Republican candidates who made insensitive or clueless comments about rape and/or abortion lost their races, including U.S. Rep. Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin and Richard Mourdock, an Indiana Senate candidate who suggested it was "God's will" when a woman became pregnant due to rape. Tea Party favorite U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois said he was pro-life without exception, then added, "The life of the woman is not an exception." He was thumped by challenger Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat and war hero who lost both her legs on the battlefield in Iraq.
And finally ...
• State Rep. Pat Connick and the Jefferson Business Council — Both could be deemed winnas because, even though they were on opposite sides of the toll fight (Connick was against, the council was for), they fought valiantly to a virtual draw. They're "hanging" because, as of press time, the outcome of the referendum was still not settled. Whatever the final result, Connick has elevated his stature and established himself as a force on the West Bank. The question now is, what will he do with it? The council, under the leadership of businessman Lee Giorgio, will certainly be a force in future elections in Jefferson.