07 April 2010

Committee action, Apr. 7: HB 51, HB 410, HB 101, HB 292, HB 1157

HB 51 would impose term limits on all statewide elected officials. Rep. Simone Champagne said it would start with the next election cycle.

Rep. Mike Danahay said the attorney general might have undue hardship with this because he might have to wait 12 years to reestablish a law practice. Rep. Rosalind Jones wanted to know whether recently whether statewide officials had served in more than three terms; Champagne said she didn’t know. Jones said she didn’t think this was a long-standing issue (meaning she didn’t know about Bob Odom or Jerry Fowler) since nobody had been in office for 30 years and said she understood the current governor was concerned with being able to implement his agenda.

Jones said there were elections, and made an impenetrable, if not completely obtuse, argument having something to do with policy importance and wanting to know what these officers did. Champagne said regardless of functions, the people should have the right to decide on this restriction. Champagne confirmed Rep. Mert Smiley’s thought that the amendment would not create a lifetime term limit.

Chairman Rick Gallot objected to passage and it was reported favorably 14-3, with only black Democrats Gallot, Jones, and Rep. Jared Brossett voting against.

HB 410 by Rep. Steve Carter now brought the issue of a three-term limit to school boards with technical amendments made.

Rep Dee Richard said he would support this because the bill created a series of local options to impose this, but Danahay said he liked the concept although he didn’t like the idea as in the bill as it came as a kind of mandate and so unlike Richard would oppose. Carter thought the merit of the bill would be to encourage people to run discouraged by long-standing incumbents, to bring fresh ideas.

Gallot offered an amendment to take out school districts in his legislative district, but Smiley objected and thought it should be offered to all voters in all districts. State Reps. Brett Geymann, Tony Ligi, Nick Lorusso, Danahay and Jones joined Gallot in voting for the amendment that failed 6-11.

Geymann wondered whether this was needed, since in Jefferson limits had been imposed recently (actually, by the Legislature itself). Carter argued this was the only recent instance and therefore it might be held back by districts (only one, Lafayette, had imposed limits on itself). Geymann also wondered why not extend it to other governing authorities that Carter said the nature of education policy was such that refreshing of ideas was particularly crucial. Joining Carter was Rep. Joe Harrison who was even more critical of entrenched school boards, citing his own experiences, saying too many people got locked into processes and were resistant to needed change.

Jones asked why should be people who understood after 12 years the complexity of policy be booted off? Harrison pointed out the state was taking over too many schools to show that long-time school board members were doing a good job, and since it was a state responsibility paid for by state taxpayers, all citizens everywhere in the state should have the chance to vote on this. Jones declared all that “minutiae” and said school board members didn’t teach, teachers did.

Geymann asked whether high-ranking states had terms; Carter said he thought so. Undaunted, he then asked how the term-limited parishes in Louisiana were doing which was fair-to-worse. Carter stressed that people should have the choice. State Rep. Cameron Henry suspected that districts doing better might even vote this down.

Jones then introduced an amendment that replicated what was in Lafayette’s charter that would leave the local option amendment up to local governments, negating the mandatory election. Henry pointed out this really didn’t change anything and said the same purpose would be served by having the people vote on term limits. The amendment was defeated.

Basically mirroring the vote on Gallot's amendment, the bill then passed.

Now, with Rep. Rickey Hardy's HB 101, the idea was for a three-term limit for dsitrict judges, district attorneys, sheriffs, also starting in 2012 and only for consecutive terms. Ligi echoed Danahay's earlier concern with giving up law practices by judges for extended periods, especially with their longer terms. Rep. Wayne Waddell wondered whether term limits might shorten total time too much so that they would be discouraged because it would not be enough time for retirement to kick in.

A number of people spoke in opposition, stressing that extending term limits would be problematic when applied to the judicial side of things. They argued that judicial jobs were full-time and career jobs and many who are employed by them are not civil servants but appointees and to a degree also are making career decisions. They said it would affect decision-making such as who to prosecute in what they argued was a debilitating way because they will do it "with an eye towards their next job."

Smiley said he wanted to offer amendments but had come with them too late, so he hoped he would have a shot at them later in the process if the bill survived. He promised great things where careers would be possible with retirement, but only if the bill went forward could this happen.

Ligi offered an amendment to remove judges. There was no objection to its adoption.

In closing, Hardy argued that after service as a DA plenty of job opportunities would be available. He saw no reason that one could not sit out and come back. Ligi asked for reporting, to which Smith objected. Only Henry, Ligi, Lorusso and Richard voted to pass.

HB 292 by Rep. Hunter Greene would essentially recreate a blanket primary for Congressional elections. HB 1157 would by Henry would create nomination by plurality. Gallot preferred to handle one, then defer momentarily to deal with the other, because they could conflict.

Jones pointed out that this would recreate the old problem of having elections in December after all other states. Greene then incorrectly asserted 20 other states followed this system; in fact, those are genuine open primary states which means voters of any party may participate in any one party's primary. He also said there would be money saved and less confusion among voters.

After adopting some technical amendments, Sec. of State Jay Dardenne testified this system really was not closed, but "semi-closed" because the parties decide how to deal with unaffiliated voters and this was a source of confusion. HB 292 would solve for this but it could cost seniority in Congress. Confusion could be fixed by not allowing parties to decide how to deal with unaffiliated voters, but wondered whether that might be judicially suspect. The cost for an extra election that might be eliminated would be $6 million.

Smiley noted that no communication from Members of Congress and no requests for the parties to speak to him seemed to indicate nobody cared and so he would be in favor of it.

Rep. Patrick Connick focused on Greene's erroneous information and asked how other states with "open" primaries were not having general elections in December. Greene couldn't really answer that, naturally, and neither could Dardenne.

Henry then talked about his bill, saying how his also would eliminate an election by making party nominations won by plurality which would maintain closed primaries. He noted this would solve for the December election problem and would solve most of the confusion attendant to the extra date. He also said that one House member, one Senator, and one state party head had said they support his bill. He also argued that confusion would die down as time passed and a change back would reintroduce confusion.

Rep. Jane Smith said the December election problem wasn't so bad since it would apply only to newcomers, and said she preferred Greene's bill. Amendments to satisfy legal requirements and to clarify were adopted to Henry's bill.

Greene's bill was chosen to go first by Gallot, who said only one could be passed without there being conflicting wills. But Smiley pointed out that if one failed on the floor there were no more options left. Gallot hinted that Speaker Jim Tucker had told him only one could go out: "Good enough for me!" Smiley said.

HB 292 was passed without objection, and thus Henry deferred.

Politicians, like diapers, should be changed frequently
Lorusso’s aphorism about Champagne’s bill.

I have the most important person supporting this bill -- God. I don't know about the rest of you.
Hardy, when asked who he knew supported his bill.


Steve Rankin said...

Washington state is the only state now using this type of system for its congressional elections-- except that Washington ALWAYS has a runoff. WA has the first round in August, with the top two vote-getters having a runoff on the first Tuesday in November.

Washington also uses this system to elect its state officials, and it's now facing federal litigation. I believe that, if WA continues using it for its congressional elections, it will ultimately have to have the first round in November, with the runoff at a later date.

Georgia is the only state that has party primaries AND runoff general elections. If no candidate gets 50%-plus on the first Tuesday in November, the top two meet in a runoff three weeks later. US Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) won such a runoff in November 2008.

Thus Georgia's system is potentially a FOUR-STEP process-- the party primaries, the runoff (or second) primaries, the general election, and the runoff general election.

Steve Rankin said...

As noted above, in a true open primary, a party's ballot is available to any voter. In almost every state where one major party has an open primary, the other major party does too. Thus each voter picks a party on primary day. 21 states have state-mandated open primaries.

In 2007, in a suit brought by a local unit of the Virginia Republican Party against that state's open primary law, the 4th circuit said that there is a circumstance in which the party-- not the state-- decides who may vote in the party's primary (Miller v. Cunningham).

A suit against Idaho's state-mandated open primary is pending in U. S. district court (Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa).

The chairwoman of the South Carolina Republican Party has also indicated that the party intends to file suit against SC's open primary law.

Jeff Sadow said...

The National Conference of State Legislatures list 22 open primary states: http://www.ncsl.org/Documents/legismgt/elect/StatePrimaryElectionTypes.pdf

To see what happened to this bill on the floor, go to http://jeffsadow.blogspot.com/2010/04/misimpression-may-have-impacted-big.html