Louisiana Democratic Party Charting New Path Forward

Louisiana Democratic Party Chair Randal Gaines / Photo source: Facebook

Louisiana Democratic Party Chair Randal Gaines is a man on a mission. Since his election in April 2024, Gaines has been crisscrossing the state to breathe new life into what was   the state’s dominant political party since Reconstruction. With the number of registered Democrats in Louisiana continuing to decrease each year and the somewhat surprising number of Democrats – especially Blacks – who voted for Governor Jeff Landry, Gaines has a big job ahead. By and large, Democrats are only winning elections where there is a significant Democratic majority. With the willingness of so many moderate Democrats to vote Republican, Gaines will have to work smart to chart a successful course for the party’s future. 

A lawyer and former state representative from LaPlace, Gaines served as chair of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus. In that role Gaines developed deep, long-standing relationships with Louisiana’s Black elected leaders with whom he is now reconnecting.  Gaines also served in the U.S. Army for three years and with the Louisiana National Guard for 25 years including during Operation Desert Storm and Hurricane Katrina.

Gaines is thought to be recreating -at least in part – the strategy Louisiana’s Republican Party relied on during the 8 years Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards was in office. That includes devoting enough time to voters in every parish to understand what issues are important to them and including those concerns in the state party’s platform.  

Gaines has already been speaking out on legislation that will hurt Louisiana’s citizens and has pledged to litigate when necessary. Lawsuits can be expensive. Funding has been a problem for the state party in recent years. Until more dollars become available or non-profit partners step up to fund the lawsuits, this pledge might be difficult to accomplish.       

Gaines might not get much traction until he patiently waits for voters to become weary of all the governor’s new reforms. Much of this legislation could hurt consumers’ pocketbooks, especially bills that sanction ever-rising insurance costs and limit the availability of coverage along Louisiana’s storm-prone coastal parishes.  

During this time, Gaines must identify and train new leaders at the grass roots level who can spread the word that the party will fight for their needs. This fresh sense of enthusiasm must be harnessed to increase voter registration, early voting and turnout on election days.  

Gaines also has said he is developing a plan to reach out to the state’s younger voters by creating organizations like college democratic groups around the state. Many of the state’s younger voters – especially progressives – have the energy and desire to work within the Democratic party structure. Gaines will have to delicately balance their issues with those of more moderate Democrats and even moderate Republicans to form a new majority.

Without rebuilding a rock solid base of Democrats coupled with a smattering of moderate Republicans, it could be difficult to elect almost any Democrat to statewide office during the next decade.  

New Orleans is a dependable blue stronghold in an increasingly red state. The actions by the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee (OPDEC) will be important to the state party’s success. OPDEC has a new leader – retired Shell Oil executive Leslie Bouie, wife of State Senator Joe Bouie – and several new executive committee members.  

Leslie Bouie

More than 40 percent of OPDEC’s 70 members are newly elected. Several OPDEC contenders like Jack Sweeney and Michelle Anderson ran on a progressive agenda and are eagerly waiting to make their mark. Other new members of interest include City Councilmember Lesli Harris, Pastor Gregory Manning, School Board member Olin Parker, retired judge Edwin Lombard, reproductive justice advocate Michelle Erenberg, City Hall stalwart Lena Stewart, educator Patrice Sentino as well as attorneys Michelle Anderson, Richard Perque, Cherie Teamer Henley, Mark Vicknair, Monique Green, Lindsey Cheek, Maurico Sierra and Emily Ratner.  Local events to strengthen the Democratic Party are already underway, according to Bouie.

Jack “Big Okra” Sweeney orleans parish Democratic executive committee

Even more important to the future election success of Democrats around the state is the Democratic State Central Committee, the state party’s policy arm. Newly elected members of that committee from Orleans Parish include former Councilmember Arnie Fielkow, State Rep. Shaun Mena, Britain Forsyth, Darlene Joseph Jones, Laurie Hebert Constantino and advocate Pamela Steeg. State party executive director LaTanja Silvester recently resigned. A new director has not been named.    

Arnie Fielkow

The recent approval of a second majority Black congressional district in Louisiana (District 6) by the U.S. Supreme Court can be a big plus for Gaines and the state party. Though the state’s congressional district map will be redrawn once again after the fall 2024 elections, currently the idea of an additional minority member in Washington D.C. should boost voter interest and turnout.  

Democratic State Senator Cleo Fields, a former member of Congress, is expected to qualify for the seat. A popular leader who has already begun raising the millions he needs to emerge as the winner, Fields is a formidable contender against any opponent. This race has national implications and could draw campaign donations from near and far. A win by Fields will help chip away at the majority Republicans hold in Congress. 

State Senator Cleo Fields with Lisa Diggs, Clerk 2nd City Court

Current Republican Congressman Garrett Graves, whose district was carved up in the mapping process, has announced he will run for re-election but has not indicated from which district. Graves fell out of favor with powerful Republicans in Louisiana and Washington including Governor Jeff Landry, Congressman Steve Scalise and House Speaker Mike Johnson. Graves could challenge Fields, Republican Congresswoman Julia Letlow in District 5 or even Republican Congressman Clay Higgins in Louisiana’s Third District. Both districts three and five are heavily Republican. Graves could re-emerge as a favored Republican if he takes on Fields.

To create the new majority Black 6th District, New Orleans based Congressman Troy Carter gave up several majority Black precincts closer to Baton Rouge. Nonetheless, Carter’s district still remains more than 50 percent Black. Like all other members of Congress, Carter is running for re-election in the fall and has built a comfortable war chest. His only announced challenger is Devin Davis, a young progressive who is associated with V.O.T.E. Davis currently leads V.O.T.E.’s Political Operations team. Davis recently ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic State Central Committee and was defeated by State Senator Royce Duplessis. 

Qualifying for the fall races will take place July 17 – 19. Voter registration is open until early October. These elections, as well as the election for the U.S. President, will be held on November 5, 2024. Since the presidential election of 1976, Louisiana has voted Democratic three times but only when the party’s nominee was a Southern governor, i.e. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Former President Donald Trump is expected to easily carry Louisiana this year.  

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