Clancy DuBos: There’s a better way to fill legislative vacancies

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The recent special election in House District 93, which encompasses some prime real estate in downtown New Orleans and surrounding neighborhoods, produced one of the lowest voter turnouts in memory, maybe ever in Louisiana. Barely 6% of the eligible voters turned out for the Feb. 18 primary. In the March 25 runoff, less than 10% voted.

Businessman Alonzo Knox won the bitterly contested runoff against criminal justice reform advocate Sibil “Fox” Richardson. Knox will have to run again in October to keep the seat.

District 93 also occupies a special place in Louisiana history, which makes the dismal turnout so disappointing.

In 1967, voters in that district elected Louisiana’s first Black state legislator since Reconstruction — Ernest “Dutch” Morial. Ten years later, Morial was elected New Orleans’ first Black mayor.

Morial’s successors include civil rights advocate Dorothy Mae Taylor, the first Black woman to serve in the Louisiana Legislature; and Rev. Avery Alexander, a labor and civil rights leader who served 24 years in the House and died while in office.

With so much history to carry forward, it’s shameful that so few voters turned out to choose a new rep.

That’s no knock against Knox or Richardson. The biggest impediment was probably timing. When then-Rep. Royce Duplessis won an earlier special election to the state Senate, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder timed the special election to make sure the district would be represented when the annual session begins April 10.

Unfortunately, the Feb. 18 primary fell on the Saturday before Mardi Gras, when the wildly popular Krewe of Endymion rolled through the district and, no doubt, distracted many voters. Another explanation for the low turnout may be voter fatigue. Folks are tired of politics and elections.

Is there a better way to fill a legislative vacancy?

Maybe. In fact, a template already exists.

In 2008, voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the House speaker or the Senate president to appoint an interim replacement when a member of their respective chamber is called away to active military duty.

The amendment allows the temporarily absent lawmaker to nominate three district voters to serve in the interim. The nominees are vetted by the House or Senate governmental affairs committee, and the chamber’s presiding officer chooses one. If the seat comes up for election in the interim, the temporary lawmaker cannot qualify to run.

The amendment was proposed by then-Rep. Nick Lorusso of New Orleans, who served in the U.S. Army Reserves and was called to active duty throughout 2009. In Lorusso’s absence, attorney Gregory Ernst did a fine job as the interim rep.

Why not use a similar approach to fill all legislative vacancies? Let interim appointees (who would be barred from running) serve through the ensuing fall elections so voters could elect new legislators when turnout is relatively high.

There’s no perfect way to choose leaders in a democracy. But we shouldn’t have to choose between Mardi Gras and voting. We already know which one loses that contest.

Clancy DuBos is Gambit’s political editor. You can reach him at clancy@gambitweekly.com.

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About Mary Weyand 14482 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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