It’s morning in Louisiana! After decades, Louisiana is no longer allowing registered Democrats to select the candidate that will represent the Republican brand on an election ballot. Fixing this problem was announced as a top priority of the Jeff Landry administration even while he was still a candidate. Julie Emerson authored the closed primary bill, House Bill 17 (HB17) in the House. The theory of closed primaries is simple. However, because we’ve had the Jungle Primary for generations, many people are confused about what it means and how the process works. To me, closed primaries are not elections, per se. It’s a method by which a political party may choose which candidate best represents their party’s core values.
Altering state law so that the state parties could choose their one candidate would certainly be the cheaper option. However, that’s not what Republican voters have been clamoring for. They want a voice in the process – and closed primaries give them that voice.
You’re asking [Republicans] to let [non-Republicans] come make a decision for us? No… If you don’t like that decision that’s being made, if you think it’s extreme as you just mentioned, then come into the party and change it.
How it works
Everyone was tired of Republicans beating each other up in the Jungle Primary. “Why can’t the party just pick a candidate and everyone get behind them?” party members would say. Previously, the state party had been sheepish about single-candidate endorsements. However, the public at large kept demanding that the party must do something. Under the leadership of Louis Gurvich, the Republican Party finally made strong, single-candidate endorsements this cycle. It was outrageously successful. Every state-wide endorsed candidate won their seat.
However, the same people who a year ago wanted the party to “just pick somebody” have suddenly moved the goalposts. “Why does the party get to choose a candidate?” they query. “Why don’t the people get to decide?” And, so Jeff Landry brought us closed primaries – where the people of their party now get to decide who their candidate will be.
Our minds still think in terms of primary and runoff elections. However, this new system is now considerably different. The first step is for the members of established parties (Republican and Democratic) to choose their candidate. That process is run by the Secretary of State and looks a lot like an election. However, it’s really just an improved party endorsement made by the individual members instead of a few party bosses. After that endorsement ‘election,’ there is an actual election that includes one Republican, one Democrat, and whoever else qualifies to run as a third-party candidate. Only that second ‘election’ is “the election.” Simple, right?
Separating true Republicans from the RINOs
So how can we (as regular, everyday citizens) determine who’s a real Republican (on board with pursuing Republican priorities), and who’s a RINO? My simple definition of a RINO is someone who actively opposes Republican Party priorities while self-identifying as Republican. This logic works for Democrats vs. DINOs, too.
So, let’s use the Republican Party’s top priority (closed primaries) as a test case for our RINO hypothesis. I’ll let you know now that I’m not using this test as a gotcha for anyone. There are outliers and exemptions in every test. This test is no different. For whatever reason, some excellent members didn’t like something they saw in one version or another of the closed primaries bill so they voted against that version. However, if we gauge both floor votes together, the outliers disappear.
So, who are the self-identified Republicans who are working against Jeff Landry and the Republican Party’s top priority? Who voted against Closed Primaries? Here they are, with an “F” designating original Fraud Squad members:
- Larry Bagley (F)
- Paula Davis (F)
- Barbara Freiberg
- Stephanie Hilferty (F)
- John Illg
- Neil Riser
- Joe Stagni (F)
- Zee Zeringue (F)
Of the original gang of twenty-three (23) Fraud Squad members (Republicans who caucused with a united Democratic Party to elect Clay Schexayder as speaker last term), only five consistently voted against this top Republican priority. The other three on this list aren’t really strangers to controversy, though. All three of them voted to exceed the state’s spending limit last session. Add to this, during the last veto override session, Neil Riser ‘accidentally’ hit the wrong vote button. That caused the veto override of Les Farnum’s bill (to give the Louisiana Secretary of State power to clean up the voter rolls) to fail by a single vote. Barbara Freiberg has a reputation for opposing good education reform instruments. She was the deciding vote that killed HR13, to have schools report on how much DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) propaganda they were using on our kids.
A few more villains
Steven Procopio from PAR (Public Affairs Research Council) submitted a comment card and spoke in Senate and Governmental Affairs during the “opposed” (red card) period. It’s certainly no surprise that PAR finds itself at odds with a top conservative priority. A quick perusal of the X (Twitter) timeline for PAR’s Melinda Deslatte reveals a distinct bend. Procopio’s six-minute speech suggested that allowing Republicans (and Democrats) to choose their own Party’s candidate for an election would somehow disenfranchise voters who are neither Republican nor Democrat.
John Couvillon with JMC Analytics and Polling spoke “for informational purposes only” on a white card. His public comment was the second-longest at over thirteen (13) minutes. Couvillion (who should have signed a red card as opposed) said that by a 65% – 20% margin, respondents opposed closed primaries. He also said that by a 54% – 20% margin, respondents are less likely to support an official who voted for closed primaries. The fact that he did a poll isn’t really the issue. That he drove to the Capitol to ensure his negative findings had been seen by the legislature doesn’t lend itself well to the claim of being a disinterested third party.
Lagniappe – a few heroes
I know what you’re thinking, “What about the Senate?” Every single Republican Senator toed the line on closed primaries, joined by Democrat Cleo Fields. In fact, Cleo Fields was the controversial Democrat committee chairman appointed by Republican Senate President Cameron Henry. However, Cleo Fields made an excellent chair for Senate and Governmental Affairs during this special session. He didn’t block anything and courteously allowed everyone (including a long-winded Barry Ivey) to speak in committee without any time limits. Ivey’s nearly fifteen minutes was the longest public comment; but only slightly longer than John Couvillon’s.
On the house side, Democrat Robby Carter joined with a majority of Republicans to pass closed primaries. That makes the closed primaries bill bi-partisan, by the way.
Citizens for a New Louisiana only has two top-ranked Senators. One of them, Mike Fesi, is probably the biggest hero for closed primaries. While Julie Emerson did a great job authoring the bill and navigating the process, it was Fesi who pulled the bill across the finish line. Everyone expected that the Senate would never approve closed primaries. After all, the Senate is notoriously known as the place where all good bills go to die.
Mike Fesi saves the day
Senator Mike Fesi perceived that the bill was not going to pass as written. To get the support of his fellow Senators, he made two last-minute amendments. The first of these perhaps wasn’t to save the bill but to make it better. Amendment number 93 added in the Supreme Court, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), and the Public Service Commission.
A quick aside: Republican Public Service Commissioner, Craig Greene, recently joined with Davante Lewis to make Democrat “Bananas” Foster Campbell the chairman of the public service commission. Greene even made the motion to nominate the Democrat! Can you say “Greene new deal“? With a 3:2 Republican majority, the PSC should absolutely have a Republican chairman. It’s shenanigans like this that make Republicans clamor for closed primaries.
The second floor amendment by Senator Mike Fesi was numbered 94. This was the change that reportedly flipped twenty (20) votes or more to the affirmative column. Simply put, this amendment allows a voter who is not affiliated with any political party (no-party) to vote in either the Republican or Democratic Party primary process. With that amendment, the Senate vote was 29-9 to pass the closed primaries bill.
What’s not in the final bill
Remember, this is going to be a new process. Sometimes it’s best to move large distances in multiple, smaller steps. This is no different. The Art of the Deal says you start with more than you want to provide room for negotiation. So, we have closed primaries for President, US Senate, US House, Louisiana Supreme Court, BESE, and the Public Service Commission.
The most chatter I’m hearing from the grassroots is about the Louisiana state-wides and legislature being amended out of closed primaries. The reduced scope of this change will be a great opportunity for the election workers and voters to step into closed primaries gradually. It’ll help everyone find the kinks for a few offices before we take this system fully operational. If all goes well, we can add in the Louisiana races later on. We have nearly four years to go before the Louisiana races will return anyway. There’s plenty of time.
I’ve also heard people call this solution “watered down.” But watered down compared to what? The system we had was the Jungle Primary. We’ve selected a small number of offices to be in phase one of a larger, gradual move to closed primaries. That’s not watered down, that’s progress.