Livingston Parish propels judge to Supreme Court
A huge lead in Livingston Parish was a big factor in Republican Jeff Hughes’ successful campaign for the District 5 seat on the Louisiana Supreme Court, Baton Rouge pollster and political analyst John M. Couvillon said Monday.
“He (Hughes) got nearly unanimous votes out of both Central and Livingston Parish,” Couvillon said.
Hughes’ win on Saturday gives Republicans a four-member majority on the seven-member Supreme Court.
Republicans now hold the Governor’s Mansion and a majority in both houses of the Legislature. The GOP also holds every statewide elected office but the one held by Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
The newest member of the state’s highest court did not return calls seeking comment on Saturday and Monday. An eight-year jurist on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, Hughes is the first Republican justice elected from District 5.
Hughes won only two of the district’s eight parishes, Couvillon said. Couvillon added, however, that Hughes’ collection of 89 percent of the Livingston Parish vote powered his six-percentage-point, district-wide victory over Democratic Party candidate and fellow appellate court Judge John Michael Guidry.
Guidry led in the Nov. 6 primary election with 27 percent of the vote. Hughes finished second with 21 percent of the vote in the eight candidate race.
Hughes, a 60-year-old Walker resident, won the runoff with a vote margin of 5,680 votes. He captured 53 percent of ballots in the district, where turnout was only 19.5 percent.
“He (Hughes) only carried two parishes, but he managed to keep it close everywhere else,” Couvillon explained.
Guidry, 50, of Baton Rouge, attempted to become the first black Supreme Court justice from District 5. He claimed the most votes in East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Iberville and Pointe Coupee parishes. Guidry is a 15-year member of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.
But the 5,577-vote margin Guidry managed in East Baton Rouge Parish was dwarfed by the 10,659-vote margin achieved by Hughes in Livingston Parish. Hughes also claimed Ascension Parish, but his vote margin there was 2,243 votes.
The Republican achieved his win in a district in which only 29 percent of voters are registered Republicans. Forty-eight percent are registered as Democrats.
“Hughes did well with his Republican base,” said Couvillon. He said Hughes received 83 percent of the vote in Central, 69 percent in southeast Baton Rouge and 52 percent of the voters between Highland Road and Perkins Road.
“That was the icing on the cake,” Couvillon said, as he noted that Hughes took 60 percent of the vote in the Kenilworth and Pollard Estates subdivisions.
Supreme Court races in Louisiana are usually relatively low-key campaigns.
But Hughes broke free from that tradition. He proclaimed that he favored the death penalty and described himself as “pro-life, pro-gun and pro-traditional marriage.” In the final days of the campaign, he argued his election to the high court would establish a four-justice Republican majority on the seven-member Supreme Court.
Hughes told district residents his election would prevent Guidry from aligning himself with “liberal Democrat Bernette Johnson,” who will become chief justice in January.
Guidry, however, campaigned as a moderate candidate and picked up the endorsements of all four political action committees of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, as well as some labor groups.
Jeffrey Sadow, a political science professor at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, predicted in early November that Hughes would win the election because of his unconventional commercials and tactics.
“For a Supreme Court race, the mold certainly got broken on this one,” Sadow said Monday. “In the past, there had been small intimations by some candidates about general ideology, but never a wholesale introduction of issue preferences or talk about court alignments.”
Sadow said he could not predict whether Hughes’ campaign tactics will be replicated in future Supreme Court elections. He added, however, that big primary fields or highly competitive runoff elections could exert pressure for use of such tactics.
“If we equate discussion away … from competence in campaigns as livening them up, we’re likely to see that in competitive contests,” Sadow said.
Woody Jenkins, chairman of the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish, said: “Judge Hughes had a tremendous campaign. When you have these low-interest elections, it’s hard to get people to come out and vote. Judge Hughes did that, though. And this is the first time the Republicans have had a majority on the Supreme Court.”