Louisiana Dems preparing for internal elections

by Jeremy Alford, LaPolitics

State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson

The March elections for the Democratic State Central Committee and the subsequent vote, if needed, for the next chairman, aren’t necessarily being guided by Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards, the first Democratic governor elected in Louisiana in 12 years.

By most accounts, Edwards is not going to be a shot-caller for the Louisiana Democratic Party nor will he be any kind of figurehead, according to those close to the party and the next governor. This matches up with the approaches of previous Democratic governors; Edwin Edwards was never a party infrastructure man and Kathleen Blanco was involved with the party apparatus only from a distance.

The central committee is the guiding body for the Louisiana Democratic Party and its members are elected from districts around the state. Qualifying was conducted in December.

State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans is the incumbent chairwoman who will seek re-election in April after the new DSCC is elected in March. She faces no organized opposition yet, but there are factions of the party still unhappy that she unseated former chairman Buddy Leach in 2012 by 10 votes.

If opposition does surface, it’ll come from that area, sitting DSCC members believe, with all of those interviewed noting they’ve not been contacted about voting for anyone else. Gov.-elect Edwards has not taken a stance on Peterson’s re-election as chair, but he also doesn’t seem to be personally working against her, either.

Edwards, of course, cannot completely ignore party politics, which means he’ll need a political director of sorts — someone who can focus on politics as the governor-elect moves his policy agenda.

The closest thing he has had to that comes in a pair, starting with state Rep. Sam Jones of Franklin, who is returning to the House and to the DSCC, and Mary-Patricia Wray, who is leaving the transition team to turn her attention back to her lobbying and consulting firm Top Drawer Strategies.

In an interview Jones said Edwards wouldn’t burden himself with politics as governor and would likely seek advice when needed from several different sources.

“The party needs to get back to the center, from wherever it is,” Jones said. “It needs to reflect a governor who is center to right on most issues, center to left on others.”

In the House, Edwards not only leaves his seat behind but also the chairmanship of the Democratic Caucus. Right now the leading contender appears to be Rep. Gene Reynolds of Minden.