The coming year will provide voters with new opportunities to get involved in government, not only in their polling locations but also at the Capitol in Baton Rouge. Those opportunities will also amount to a shot at redemption, which is sorely needed after the parade of apathy that was on display in 2017.
For anyone who reads local news with any regularity, the tale of last year’s elections should be well know by now. There were five statewide ballot items in 2017, and on average they yielded a voter turnout of 14 percent.
That’s a dark corner in recent political history. Secretary of State Tom Schedler, as a result, is on a mission to reverse the electoral slump. But a change in state law shouldn’t be needed; in addition to making sure you vote in 2018, make it a part of your civic duty to take someone along with you.
As for voter participation at the Capitol last year, we heard the same kind of participation crickets chirping into the wind. Despite the heavy debates that were raging about the budget and taxes, not to mention the fiscal future of Louisiana, the hallways and committee rooms were relatively quiet.
It’s a troubling trend that editorial writers have been wasting ink on, and some politicos hot air on, with no shift in sight. Sadly, the problems also run from head to toe in the Bayou State.
At the front end, fewer people want to run for office, based on recent qualifying periods. Fewer people are voting, as we learned from last year’s tallies. And finally, fewer people are participating in the legislative process, particularly when it comes to the fiscal issues hosted by this term’s sessions.
For those wanting to see, first and foremost, a sizable spike in statewide voter turnout, that desire will need to be pause until 2019. So far there aren’t any statewide ballot measures certified for our elections this year.
That could change if a statewide-elected office unexpectedly becomes vacant, which happens occasionally. Or if state lawmakers make a push to include another constitutional amendment on the fall ballot, which lawmakers are wont to do.
There are, however, other regional and local elections that will touch every corner of the state. That is, if all of the slated contests draw contenders, which is unlikely. Nonetheless, there will be electoral action in 2018 and more than likely you will get a chance to vote for or against someone.
The hottest ticket of the year comes courtesy of Washington, with all of our U.S. House members up for re-election in November. That means Congressmen Ralph Abraham, Garret Graves, Clay Higgins, Mike Johnson, Cedric Richmond and Steve Scalise will be asking for your vote, or thanking their lucky stars they’re unopposed.
The Public Service Commission will have a seat up for grabs in the fall too.
Plus there will be a pair of regional state House battles, both of which are already heating up. Voters in the Hammond-Amite area will select a new representative, or force a runoff, in February. The following month, in March, voters in the French Quarter area of New Orleans will do the same.
From the bench there are upcoming races for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and the 18th and 3rd judicial district courts. There’s an election for district attorney down in Lafourche Parish as well that has candidates.
On top of all of this, 2018 will be a busy year for local elections. There are mayoral contests across the map, from Broussard and Bunkie to Slidell and Shreveport, and loads of locales in between. These races are attracting interest from legislators and other elected officials, which means they could, in turn, potentially produce unintended special elections.
(For example, state Rep. Greg Cromer is running for mayor of Slidell. Should he win, a special election for House District 90 would be a distinct possibility.)
There will also be elections this year for school boards, chiefs of police, justices of the peace, councilmen, aldermen and other positions. Visit your local registrar, or get on SOS.La.Gov, to prepare yourself.
For those of you wanting to dive into legislative politics, you may get a couple of opportunities in the coming months. You’ll have at least one shot to catch a lawmaker’s ear in 2018 — during the regular session that convenes March 12 and adjourns June 4. That's when the House and Senate will be charged with balancing a budget, which may prove difficult.
If you have ever earnestly sweated about funding for higher education and health care, this will be a session to watch. Gov. John Bel Edwards may have to call a special session prior to the regular session, and/or maybe after it, to get lawmakers to vote on tax proposals to address a shortfall of roughly $1 billion.
So if you sweat being taxed, any session preceded by the word “special” will be something you’ll want to tune in for in 2018.
The New Year brings with it a chance for a fresh start when it comes to public participation in government. Whether you’re a chronic voter or a new voter or a sometimes voters, let’s all embrace that political resolution to do better.
We certainly can’t do any worse than 2017. Hopefully.
Jeremy Alford is publisher and editor of LaPolitics.com and LaPolitics Weekly. You can reach him by email at JJA@LaPolitics.com or 225-772-2518.