Unmasking the Louisiana RINO in Modern Politics

   
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A few years ago, someone I respect asked me a simple yet piercing question: How do you define RINO? If you aren’t familiar with the term, it’s an acronym for Republican In Name Only. The answer was simple at the time—at least for Louisiana House of Representatives members. A Louisiana RINO is anyone who broke their oath to the Republican Caucus and voted to make Clay Schexnayder Louisiana’s Speaker of the House over delegation selection, Sherman Mack.

You may remember that Schexnayder rose to assume the speakership thanks to a united Democratic Party and a fractured Republican Party. The Gang of 23, also known as the Fraud Squad, were the 23 Republicans who selfishly broke with the party to select Democrat Governor John Bel Edwards’ preference as speaker.

But that was then, and this is now. How should we determine what it means to be a Louisiana RINO today? Further, how can we expand this designation beyond the confining limits of a single vote four years ago by many now departed? What of the Class of 2024, who never had the opportunity to cast this vote? And what about members of the Louisiana Senate who, similarly, never cast a vote for their equally horrendous leader, “Blank” Page Cortez? How do we identify Louisiana RINOs in the other chamber?

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Identifying the Louisiana RINO

How can we better gauge someone’s moral character and overall Republicanness? There are probably a dozen organizations that create single-issue scorecards. However, these groups tend to gauge lawmakers by a paltry dozen floor votes. Is that a fair determination? What should we consider when deciding these legislators’ overall value and character? Endorsements, awards, praise from other organizations? But what organizations?

Here at Citizens for a New Louisiana, we, too, have a legislative scorecard for the House and another for the Senate. I know ours is much more robust and less silo-driven than the others. Our goal has been to identify our lawmakers’ passions and enthusiasms on multiple issues. These passions are represented by various badges. Are they Second Amendment proponents, tough on crime, and working to clean up the library children’s section? Did they oppose exceeding the state’s spending limit? Do they support legalizing marijuana or legalizing prostitution? Are they protecting erotic books in the library children’s section? Do they believe the government has the power to mandate medical experiments on your body, or do they support Health Freedom initiatives? There’s a badge for all that and more.

We also have an overall star rating, list their notable efforts, their board of ethics reports, who they are known to associate with, etc. One could guess (accurately) that any Republican with a star rating lower than five (5) could be a Louisiana RINO. However, none of that implicitly says RINO or not RINO.

A new way…

In our recent article on Louisiana’s legislative freshmen, I introduced you to a new concept we call “votes like.” When we rolled it out, one of the first questions I received was about a specific legislator’s voting pattern. Why are they associated with these legislators instead of those legislators? It was (and is) a valid question. When I looked through the legislators who vote most closely like one another, a few surprised me, too.

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Here’s how it works. We didn’t build these associations with human intelligence—like some of what our scorecard is based on. Instead, I used my programming talent to create an entirely mathematical exercise. Unlike other organizations that used a dozen votes gauge, I programmatically looked at all 136,320 individual votes cast in the 2024 regular session. Yes, every single one of them. That represents 2,907 floor votes held by 144 lawmakers: 105 in the House and 39 in the Senate.

This vote association data may also help identify Louisiana RINOs.

A few data tweaks

It may be worth mentioning that I focused on final passage votes. Votes on procedural hurdles like suspending the rules, discharging a committee, the 2/3 requirement after a certain date, various amendments, etc., were not counted. To me, the final passage vote was the best measure. Also, the more of these nearly unanimous procedural votes we remove, the more separation we begin to see between members. If you can identify just one Louisiana RINO, these new “votes like” associations should lead you to more of them.

This “vote-like” feature is the most comprehensive data ever collected and projected in a way that Louisianan citizens can peruse easily. Lawmakers can no longer decide which twelve of their nearly three-thousand votes to sacrifice for a 100% score. They can’t hide from the data with rhetorical skills. It is almost impossible to coordinate 2,907 votes in real-time while they’re happening. When we consider the data in total, a member’s natural tendencies and inclinations will float to the surface – they have to. Looking at 2,907 votes has to be better than only looking at 12.

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Looking for Louisiana RINOs. No cheating!

That’s right. It’s not up to me to decide for you who is a Louisiana RINO. I want you to know, not trust me or anyone else. Knowing comes from doing your own research. However, I’ve made it super easy for you. I’ll even give you some great starting points on who is most definitely not a RINO. Danny McCormick sits at the top of the charts, followed by Julie Emerson, who most conservative freshmen voted like. Other top-ranked legislators include Beryl Amedee, Raymond Crews, Dodie Horton, Chuck Owen, and Rodney Schamerhorn. Another safe bet is following those with other great lawmakers like Josh Carlson, Tony Bacala, Michael Echols, Kathy Edmonston, Gabe Firment, Roger Wilder, and Emily Chenevert.

More solid Republicans include Speaker Phillip DeVillier, Bryan Fontenot, Brett Geymann, “New Louisiana” Mike Johnson, Jack McFarland, Laurie Schlegel, Phillip Tarver, Polly Thomas, Debbie Villio, Mark Wright, Lauren Ventrella, Michael Melerine, Kimberly Coates, Jay Galle, Kellee Dickerson, Dixon McMakin, Peter Egan, and Brian Glorioso. The list continues, but you can follow along yourself. Visit our House scorecard (or the Senate, if you prefer) and make your way until you drift into the 5s and 4s. Click on a lawmaker that strikes your fancy and look at their “votes like” section.

Please tell me what you think.

One word of warning. Our “votes like” will show you the ten most similar members by vote. Suitable matches are in the high ninety percentile. Bad matches will be in the eighty percentile or lower. Some legislators don’t have matches in the 90s. There are also some I’d consider Louisiana RINOs who have strong conservatives showing up in “votes like.” So, pay attention to the percentages. You may discover curious anomalies, such as Stephanie Hilferty‘s scorecard showing her highest vote-like match is her seatmate Paula Davis (91.18%). However, when you look at Paula Davis‘s scorecard, Stephanie Hilferty isn’t even in the top ten.

The scorecards themselves have places for you to recommend changes and improvements. You can also use those email suggestion links to submit other ideas that could offer our state’s citizens more or better insight into their elected officials. We will also be tinkering with different ways to present these 136,320 votes. If you have ideas for that, be sure to let us know. Remember that we’ve only accumulated the floor votes so far. One day soon, we’ll also have a go at committee votes.

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