Hidden Issues On The October Ballot

Louisiana elections produce much more than winners and losers. They also generate new insights into the modern political landscape, foreshadow policy debates to come and offer us an opportunity to take the temperature of the electorate on any number of issues.

To that end, here are four questions that will likely all be answered before, during and after voters walk into the polls on Oct. 14…

1. Will the campaigns be televised? 

Of course they will be televised. But probably not at the levels we’ve seen in recent election cycles.

Just take a look at the current costs for getting television commercials on the air. To purchase 1,000 points per week on TV this cycle a candidate would have to spend, on average, about $100,000 in the New Orleans market and $95,000 per week in Baton Rouge.

(Every 100 points of airtime purchased by a candidate for their commercial will in theory result in each average viewer in that particular market seeing the ad at least once. In other words, a 1,400-point media buy made by a campaign for its commercial is supposed to create 14 separate viewing opportunities for the rank-and-file television consumer.)

Elsewhere around the state the prices aren't much better. The Shreveport weekly rate is roughly $75,000 for 1,000 points. In Lafayette and Alexandria it’s $60,000, Lake Charles, $50,000; and Monroe, $45,000.

Now connect those numbers to the money our statewide candidates for treasurer actually have to spend.

Former state Rep. John Schroder of Covington has reported $638,000 in the bank, which is enough to blanket New Orleans for about a month and a half only. By comparison former commissioner of administration Angele Davis of Baton Rouge has $315,000 in cash on hand and state Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia has $201,000.

That’s all to say the media side of this election cycle — particularly in the race for treasurer — might not look like the traditional statewide campaigns we’re familiar with. It may even be another month or so until we actually see any serious television outreach.

2.) Does anyone care?

From aldermen and village mayors to constables and district judges, the 105 elected positions that were up for grabs during qualifying barely caught the attention of candidates. In fact, more than half of the races either drew one candidate each or no candidates at all.

That’s among the many reasons why Secretary of State Tom Schedler is aiming low — very low — in terms of turnout predictions for the October ballot. “It’s way too early for an official prediction,” Schedler said in a recent interview, “but I don’t think you even hit 20 percent.”

The exception could be New Orleans, he added, where there’s a competitive race for mayor and for various seats on the city council.

3.) Will there be a legislative backlash?

Rarely does an election cycle go by without a member of the Legislature running for another office. It’s quite common, and this year is no exception. In all there are two representatives and two senators seeking positions outside of the Legislature on the October ballot.

There’s Riser, a state senator, running for treasurer. He’ll also be joined by Schroder, who was a legislator just over a month ago. It’ll be interesting to see if voters are willing to look at the two men differently — or if they'll be lumped together and held equally accountable for their past votes.

State Sen. Danny Martiny has likewise qualified to run for the Jefferson Parish Council against Kenner City Councilman Dominick Impastato. While we’ve seen a couple of lawmakers return to the local level this term already, this race will be yet another experiment on how voters feel about that kind of shift.

Finally, look to the Big Easy for the only legislator-versus-legislator matchup this fall. It’s going to be state Rep. Joe Bouie, chairman of the Black Caucus, against state Rep. Helena Moreno for an at-large seat on the New Orleans City Council. There are two other candidates in the race as well, but a Bouie-Moreno runoff would probably produce the loudest fireworks.

4.) Could this be the death of gas tax chatter?

Lawmakers made relatively quick work of rejecting an increase in the state gas tax during this year's regular session. Despite the ever-increasing backlog of construction projects, and despite the poor condition of Louisiana’s roads and highways, the Legislature decided that this was not the time.

However, there are some vestiges of that debate on the October ballot. The third and final proposed constitutional amendment voters will weigh in on would create safeguards for the proceeds of any new tax levied on gas. So if lawmakers decide to hike the gas tax in the future, the resulting dollars could only be used for construction, maintenance and a few other purposes — if the amendment is approved.

If that happens, if the amendment passes, proponents of an increase will immediately interpret that success as a signal that voters are open to doing something (anything) about transportation funding. If it fails, on the other hand, then opponents won’t take long to point out that voters are sick and tired of hearing about the issue.

Again, there will be winners and losers on the Oct. 14 ballot. Someone, for instance, will become our next state treasurer as five other politicos figure out a way to live with defeat. It’s the same story up and down that ballot, from the open Public Service Commission race to the election for the Beauregard Parish School Board.

But elections are much more than personalities. Pay close enough attention and you’ll certainly see that yourself in the fall.

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