Louisiana task force suggests closing ‘jungle’ primaries for Congress

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BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Louisiana lawmakers are poised to consider partially abandoning the state’s nonpartisan “jungle primary” system, a shift that would align the state’s congressional election process with others nationwide.

A task force led by state Senate Republican leader Sharon Hewitt recommended the change. Should the state Legislature agree, congressional primaries would close based on party affiliation. For example, only Democrats would vote in a Democratic primary, and only Republicans would vote in a Republican primary.

The current system has been in place for much of the past four decades. Under it, if no candidate gets more than half of the votes, the top two vote-getters go to a runoff. These runoffs often stretch into December, a month after elections in other states end.

Supporters of closed primaries claim that open contests cost time that congressmembers-elect could otherwise spend hiring staff and building bonds on Capitol Hill.

“Louisiana’s members are at a disadvantage over every other state,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Jefferson Republican who sits on the state’s Closed Primary Task Force. “When Louisiana’s having a runoff, all the relationship-building, especially the jockeying for committee positions — which is really important for a member’s ability to be effective day one representing their district — all happens. Our new member almost always is not part of that discussion directly because they’re on the outside looking in.”

But critics of the proposal worry that closing primaries by parties would breed partisanship.

“Something that’s not broke, why fix it?” said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican. “Let’s continue working as Louisianans to elect the best people — and in an open primary, that’s the fairest way. You’ve got to speak to all the people of Louisiana to get elected.”

The task force’s recommendations would not apply to city, parish or state government races.

The Louisiana Legislature could take up the closed-primary proposal during the legislative session that begins April 12.

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