While you were gathering with family and friends and celebrating the holidays last month, a new political party was very quietly established in Louisiana. It hopes to one day compete with the Republican and Democratic parties, which may be a bit of windmill-tilting, but for now it’s being touted as part of a new “independent-minded” movement in the Bayou State.
The paperwork for the Louisiana Independent Party was received by the Secretary of State’s Office on Dec. 22. The required documents were filed by party chairman Pat Bergeron, who’s best known as a GOP consultant and operative, and party treasurer Bill Bryan, an election attorney who was the Louisiana press secretary for the 1996 Clinton/Gore presidential campaign.
It was a stand-up-and-take-notice move, both of these men shedding their mainline party labels to create the state Independent Party. (As of late last week, Bryan had already made the switch and Bergeron was preparing to do the same.) And it’s no joke—the Independent Party is now a recognized party in Louisiana, according to secretary of state spokeswoman Meg Casper.
Why Bryan and Bergeron chose to do so is easy to understand. For starters, many voters have become weary of the partisan struggles in Baton Rouge and Washington. If Republicans and Democrats aren’t fighting each other, then they’re warring from within their own ranks. But as much as voters complain about this trend, which has fully taken hold in Louisiana, the sentiment rarely if ever shows up in election results.
Voter registration statistics do show a slow trickle of folks pulling away from major party affiliations as the “other” category grows. Last year was an outlier, though, with the Republican Party outpacing “other party” registrations for the first time in recent memory, due in large part to voters wanting to participate in Louisiana’s closed presidential primary.
The Democratic Party is the biggest loser when you look at the numbers. From Jan. 1, 2007, to the start of this year, Dems lost 191,000 voters. Republicans picked up about 201,000 new voters during the same timeframe and “other party” registrations were trailing right behind, with an increase of 156,000.
That’s enough voters outside of the mainstream political spectrum to swing a major election. Such an upset, however, has never happened in Louisiana and pollsters are quick to note that those with “other” affiliations simply don’t vote. Moreover, non-affiliated voters have never had anywhere to turn. There hasn’t been a candidate yet without an “R” or a “D” behind their name who has captured the imagination of this section of the electorate.
Before we go any further, it’s worth knowing how this new political party was formed. Former Sen. Rick Gallot passed a law in 2014 that removed a prohibition against an “Independent Party” being established. Among the requirements now is that at least 1,000 voters must be registered with a proposed party before it can be recognized.
When you go to register to vote, you are allowed to pick whichever party you like, and many voters, possibly not knowing that “no party” is an option, have long chosen to be “independent.” (There are also the Louisiana Green, Libertarian and Reform parties.) And that’s where Bergeron and Bryan saw an opportunity; there were enough “independent” voters already registered to meet the 1,000-voter requirement.
As a result, there are currently 56,000 Independent Party voters on the rolls—even if those same voters believed “independent” would mean “no party.” Casper said voters who are now registered as Independent but who do not want to be a part of a recognized party can change their registration to “no party” at GeauxVote.com at any time.
The soonest we might see candidates from this new party emerge is in the fall, since the Independent Party by law has to be in “recognized” status for 90 days before it can play. Bergeron said he hoped it would grow slowly as a grassroots movement so that a committee can be formed to create a more definitive direction.
Giving voters more choices is always a good thing. Trying to move outside of the policy and political boxes that contain our two-party system is even better sometimes. But it’s not going to happen overnight. For a true independent movement to be successful, education and outreach will have to be central in the coming months.
Proponents could also be bolstered by a Legislature that meets in gridlock this legislative year or by statewide elected officials who simply can’t get along no matter the issue. Yet, again, it’s going to be incredibly difficult.
On this particular front, with the Louisiana Independent Party starting to take baby steps, the most important story will be what happens next. Because it will be the actions of our current elected class that either dooms any such movement or lifts it up.