The Louisiana Legislature has convened for an important special session that will determine the future of our state’s electoral processes. This includes a critical vote on Governor Jeff Landry’s bill to implement closed primaries, which must pass.
Closed primaries are overdue and needed to move Louisiana forward. Our current system is unique in all the wrong ways, and thankfully we have a Governor and State Legislature in place with the courage to push for necessary changes.
I was honored to participate in meetings of Louisiana’s Closed Party Primary Task Force in 2020. We heard many of the arguments for and against each of the primary election systems, and I know that a tremendous amount of consideration has gone into the process. It’s clear, though, that closed primaries represent the best path forward for the State of Louisiana.
The current jungle primary system puts Louisiana at a disadvantage. In contrast to other states, our primary elections take place in November and often require a costly and time-consuming December runoff. The resulting delay also means that Louisiana’s federal representatives are a month behind our peers in building a staff, receiving briefings, noting committee preferences, and performing other critical transition tasks. While this is of lesser impact for incumbents, it is a challenge for Louisiana’s newly elected representatives. It’s a disadvantage my office faced in 2017, though we worked hard to overcome and get to work for South Louisiana’s citizenry. However, the underlying problem is 100% avoidable. Moving to a closed primary system addresses this disparity and puts Louisiana on the same playing field as other states.
Further, the jungle primary system prevents Louisiana’s political parties from selecting their preferred candidates. Each major party, Democratic and Republican, deserves an opportunity to choose its nominee ahead of the general election. Closed primaries afford the fairest system for voters and ensure that both major parties have representation on the final ballot.
Closed primaries also limit the ability of candidates to deceive voters, registering under one party affiliation while espousing views that do not match. Too often in Louisiana’s elections, we have seen moderate Democrats switch their affiliation to Republican for electoral advantage. This practice is wrong and should be discouraged. With closed party primaries, voters can better vet candidates on their values and core principles. For Republicans, that means ensuring that we are choosing true conservatives to represent our party in each election. We learned difficult lessons in the 2015 and 2019 gubernatorial elections, and it’s time to fix Louisiana’s primary system.
While change can be intimidating, Louisiana is not untested in its ability to implement or administer closed primaries. Presidential primary elections, which will be held this year, follow the same closed party system. We also have historical precedent to follow as many of our current elected officials were successfully chosen in closed primary contests between 2008 and 2010. The formula already exists, and it works in Louisiana. The result is a simpler, more straightforward fall ballot with one Democrat, one Republican, and ballot-qualified Independent, Libertarian, or Other Party candidates.
As the Louisiana Legislature debates closed primary changes this week, it is important for all citizens to make their voices heard. Contact your state representatives and state senators. We have an opportunity to enact much-needed electoral reforms. Structural change is required to drive our state forward, and it begins with passing Governor Landry’s bill for closed primaries.
Congressman Clay Higgins (R-LA) represents Louisiana’s 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives.