Senate control: a cajun affair

Tom Hyde - Staff Writer

There is a political dichotomy prevalent within the Senate races in 2002: a fundamental question of states’ rights in elections versus the right of the American public to have a functional Senate.
To better illustrate the need for such debate is the United States Senate race in Louisiana, a battle that may literally halt the effective transition of power to the newly elected Senate.
Louisiana law states that Senate candidates must receive more than fifty percent of the vote in order to win the election outright. With five candidates running for one position, Mary Landrieu, the incumbent Democrat may face a December runoff if she fails to make the halfway marker.
This race has received little media attention, because it is clear that Landrieu is well ahead in the polls and stands little chance of being unseated. Currently, she is hovering around 47 percent with registered voters, trouncing the number two candidate.
However, it is possible if not likely that the race will end in a political stalemate, forcing Landrieu and the number two vote getter into a runoff.
With 2002 being such an important midterm election year, this race could be critical in deciding control of the Senate. As races then tighten across the country, Democratic leaders in the Senate are bracing for a political showdown in the Big Easy, pumping over five hundred thousand dollars into last minute campaign ads to push their candidate over the critical line.
This poses an interesting dilemma, rooted fundamentally in a question of whether states’ rights to decide the electoral process is more important than the national interest of securing an efficiently run Congress.
It is important to weigh the implications of the rights afforded to the states. Conservatives argue that states should maintain the right to manage elections as seen fit in their respective localities. Races for Congress and Senate, although offices that affect the national interest, are subject to the regulations imposed by election commissions and the state legislatures in each state.
Engrained in this system is a philosophical interest, as opposed to a purely pragmatic purpose. Liberals, who have historically favored a more powerful central government, are unlikely to challenge the states’ right to such jurisdiction, even if presented with situations that are borderline dilemmas.
If, for example, Landrieu faces a runoff and there is no clear majority decided for the Senate until late December, the political tumult surrounding the election might unfairly influence the vote.
Imagine the pressure put on Louisiana voters by special interest groups if the fate of the majority of the Senate was contingent upon a favorable outcome for the respective parties.
Voters would likely be inundated with special interest advertisements, or at least theoretically, bullied by each party to secure or reject her candidacy.
It is questionable whether or not this is the best way to assure the most fair and democratic process.
To the contrary, it is important that Congress not defy the Constitution and the laws of our country that purposefully reserve powers for the states that counterbalances the inherent power imbalance between Washington and the states.