Posted by Russell Daniels on May 05, 2021 at 6:46 PM
Senator drops bid to move Louisiana's congressional elections to closed party primaries
A state senator has dropped a bid to change Louisiana’s unique jungle primary system for congressional races in favor of closed party primaries, shelving an issue that has created sharp public divisions between some of the state’s leading Republicans. State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, pulled her bill to change the state’s primary system Wednesday, saying more study is warranted.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of stress. We’re in a state that’s had a jungle primary for a very, very long time,” Hewitt said. “I don’t think we’re really at that place yet in our state.”
The Louisiana Republican Party, with the support of key GOP leaders like Attorney General Jeff Landry and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, has pushed for the Legislature to move Louisiana to closed party primaries. Scalise said his main aim is to hold elections for Congress earlier, which would send the winner to D.C. in November as other states do, instead of holding December runoffs. But the timing can’t be changed without altering the election system, because incumbents often win outright in the primary, and the state can’t elect its members of Congress before November.
Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, pushed forward another idea Wednesday: Holding the primaries for congressional races in September, with November runoffs, and if a candidate wins outright in the primary, the state would hold off on declaring the winner until November. That would address Scalise's issue, he said. The proposal – House Bill 557 – was advanced by the House and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday.
But the proposal to do away with open primaries entirely drew intense pushback from some other Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser. Nungesser went to a meeting of the Republican State Central Committee last month to argue the move would produce “extreme candidates.”
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, both Republicans from Baton Rouge, have also come out against the proposed change, arguing candidates should try to appeal to the entire state instead of only people registered with a specific party.
Some of the state’s more conservative Republicans make the opposite argument: They believe if candidates have to first win a nomination by only registered Republicans, it will produce more conservative candidates, which they see as a good thing. That idea gained steam following Cassidy’s vote to convict former President Donald Trump on charges of incitement of insurrection, a decision that drew fury from many Louisiana Trump supporters.
Louisiana is a heavily Republican state in voting patterns, with every statewide office besides governor currently held by a Republican, and seven of eight congressional seats held by the GOP. But the state still has more registered Democrats than Republicans because of a large contingency of people who registered as Democrats when that was the dominant party in Louisiana but now regularly vote for Republicans. Some GOP officials have said closing the party primaries would help change that idiosyncrasy.
Hewitt’s bill was the result of a task force that studied the idea of moving to closed party primaries. Ahead of the legislative session, the task force -- which included Democrats -- recommended the state change to closed party primaries for Congressional races, while leaving the open primary in place for other elections. Hewitt’s bill would have made the change in law.