Political scientist Michael Wagner believes that America is not as politically divided as it seems.
“Political division is normal,” he said Tuesday in a talk at LSU. “It’s not problematic that we disagree, but if we stop listening to each other, we are in real trouble.”
He explained that to most people, polarization means red versus blue or right versus left – but that the data tells a different story. While elected officials tend to be hyperpolarized, the public’s beliefs span a range of political ideologies, from populist to libertarian, with some moderates drawn from each camp.
Wagner, a professor at the University of Wisconsin who is working on a book about the partisan divide, gave a presentation at the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication.
Louisiana is famous for its political spats, and the latest between two Republicans could be a factor in the upcoming special election for secretary of state.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La, has criticized State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, for supporting efforts in the state Legislature to compromise over a sales-tax extension to avoid deep budget cuts.
Asked about Kennedy’s comments, Stokes, who is running to replace former Secretary of State Tom Schedler, said Kennedy told her he disliked her because she sent out two positive tweets about one of his opponents when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016.
“I did almost-next-to-nothing to Kennedy, and he’s willing to disparage me all over the state,” Stokes said in an interview. “I just hope people get to a point where they can see through shallow political games like that.”
In a 33-6 vote Sunday, the Senate sent a sales tax bill to Gov. John Bel Edwards that could end the financial instability that has dominated discussions at the Capitol and led to seven special sessions since he took office in 2016.
The bill, which represented a compromise Friday between Edwards and House Republicans, will extend 0.45 of a cent of sales tax that was scheduled to expire on July 1.
That will lower the state’s portion of the sales tax to 4.45 percent from 5 percent now. But by not letting the full penny expire, it will raise $463 million to fully fund TOPS scholarships, higher education and state health services and reduce cuts in other areas. The extra 0.45 of a cent will expire in 2025.
Edwards and House Republican leaders also have grappled for control over the budget process, and the Senate voted 39-0 Sunday to pass a supplementary budget bill after acceding to House demands about how some of the spending choices might eventually be made. The House then ratified that deal 88-7, ending the special session.
When Rep. Paula Davis of Baton Rouge put forward a compromise Friday to resolve an epic fight over funding state government, a fellow Republican proposed an amendment that could have placed the bill in jeopardy.
As Rep. Raymond Crews of Shreveport, approached the podium, Davis firmly shook her head no and repeatedly told him, “Do not do this.” Several members came rushing over to support her, and Crews backed off, prompting applause from other legislators.
That dramatic moment reminded nearly everyone in the chamber of how another Republican had rushed to the microphone to stop Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, from calling for a compromise vote earlier this month.
Stokes lost then, while Davis’ bill was approved Friday, breaking a logjam. The risks both took on such a high-stakes issue show how women are beginning to have a larger influence in a male-dominated Legislature that has not always been so hospitable to them.
As the Senate prepares to vote Sunday on a compromise to fund the state’s budget, ending a conundrum that has tormented lawmakers and citizens alike for the last three years, two Senate leaders reflected on how the deal came together and what lies ahead for Louisiana.
Committees led by the Democratic Sens. Eric LaFleur of Ville Platte and J.P. Morrell of New Orleans on Saturday approved bills that include the breakthrough terms that Gov. John Bel Edwards and the House agreed to on Friday.
Under that deal, the state will renew 0.45 percent of an expiring penny of sales tax for seven years and use an additional $466 million in revenue from that tax to fully fund TOPS scholarships and other parts of the state budget that had been vulnerable to cuts.
The House erupted into cheers Friday after voting 74-24 to renew 0.45 percent of an expiring penny of sales tax until 2025, breaking a huge logjam and reaching a compromise with Gov. John Bel Edwards after nearly five months of intense fighting.
The bill would generate $466 million in additional revenue next year, falling $182 million short of the $648 million that Edwards had originally sought but only $42 million less than was needed to fund a somewhat reduced budget that the Legislature passed earlier this month.
Legislators said the compromise should provide enough money to fully fund TOPS, higher education, state health care services and other priorities while narrowing cuts to the Department of Corrections and payments to sheriffs for housing state prisoners.
A clearer picture emerged Thursday about the winners and losers in the most recent shuffling of how the Legislature would divide the revenue from extending four-tenths of a cent of sales tax.
Republicans touted the four-tenths plan as a way to restore full funding to higher education, Go Grants, and district attorneys’ salaries while shaving one-tenth of a penny off a sales tax extension that Gov. John Bel Edwards proposed.
But under that plan, TOPS scholarships would be cut by 10 percent, sheriffs would receive $11 million less than last year for housing state prisoners and other departments would be funded at standstill budget levels.
“Tell me what you need, not what you want,” Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, told one Democrat. “Are they going to be happy they have reductions? Of course not. But you and I have both been here long enough to know not everyone will love it.”