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Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


To many electoral observers across the country, Louisiana is the synergy of the political universe. Nowhere is there such a concentration of political interest – right? Wasn’t it a Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives who said if you want to get a graduate degree on successful politics, go down to Louisiana? And who can forget former Governor Earl Long’s final wish on his deathbed: “Or Lord, when I die, bury me in Louisiana so I can stay active in politics.” There’s more interest and participation in political campaigns in Louisiana than in any other place in the country. Or is there?

A new study by the Wallethub Foundation shows a significant drop in voter participation in the Bayou State. Louisiana has slid down the scale, tying with Michigan for a run of the mill 14th place in the rankings of civically engaged Americans. The study took in a number of factors, ranging from the percentage of registered voters in the 2012 presidential election to the total political contributions per adult population.

Neighboring Mississippi, far and away out ranks Louisiana in voter participation.  Young voters (18 to 24) in Mississippi out rank Louisiana by more than 20 points, at 64 percent compared to Louisiana’s 42 percent. Seniors in Mississippi are far ahead in going to the polls with an 82 percent participation rate compared to Louisiana at 74 percent. A long list of Midwestern and East Coast states turn out for elections at a significantly higher level than in Louisiana.

So what has happened in the deepest of the deep southern states, where being active in politics has been a part of the state’s DNA for decades? Politics used to be a way of life in the Bayou State, where the Longs and the anti-Longs, Sam Jones and the reformers, oil money, Edwin Edwards and the rise of Cajun country created lots entertainment. After all, You Are My Sunshine is the state song.

The simple fact is that Louisiana political life has grown stale and, well, just a lot less interesting. Retail politics has become a thing of a bygone age. Remember in years past where statewide politicians would never miss a parade or a festival, even in small communities? In my twenty years as a statewide elected official, I seldom missed the Pecan Festival and parade in Colfax, the Frog Festival in Rayne, or the Watermelon Festival in Farmerville. Rarely does any candidate for major office show up for these people oriented events today. Former U.S. Senator Allan Ellender used to visit every parish in the state once a year. The current candidates for U.S. Senate haven’t been to a number of parishes in their entire terms of office.

Apathy has set in, particularly among millennials. In discussing the current U.S. Senate race, a young voter recently told me: “What difference does it make who controls the senate? If the Republicans win control, the senate will be run by an out of touch old white guy. If the Democrats keep control, the leader in charge is an out of touch old white guy. Who cares?”

The President engenders a huge negative in Louisiana, particularly for Democrats. But if you take Obama out of the equation, many voters have concluded that if you put both parties in a sack and shake it up, it wouldn’t matter who you pulled out. They both have dropped the ball on being fiscally responsible, addressing the immigration problem, and finding reasonable solutions for a host of festering problems.

Throw into this mix a legislature that genuflects to the governor, and a governor who has all but abandoned the state, and it’s surprising that there’s any interest in elections at all. Louisiana gets one more bite at the apple in the December 4th run-off election. But don’t get your hopes up for much of a renewal of political interest.

Unfortunately, for many Louisiana voters and non-voters alike, their attitude mirrors the 1971 hit by the English Rock group, The Who.

There’s nothing in the streets

Looks any different to me.

Meet the new boss

Same as the old boss

We Won’t Get Fooled Again”

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com

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