The first national election since Hurricane Katrina resulted in the Democrats taking control of the U.S. House -- but that means trouble for Louisiana's influence on Capitol Hill.
With five Republicans and two Democrats now representing the state in Congress, Louisiana will have a harder time shaping federal policy, as its delegation loses the chance to control two committees important to the post-storm recovery effort, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports:
With the Republicans thrust back into the minority after 12 years in control, Rep. Jim McCrery, R-Shreveport, saw his long campaign to become chairman of the powerful Ways & Means Committee evaporate. The panel writes tax policy and was instrumental in crafting a package of incentives designed to boost the economy of the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast. As chairman, McCrery would have been positioned to provide additional business and housing incentives to speed the recovery.
The election returns likewise turned off the lights on Baton Rouge Rep. Richard Baker's bid to become chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. The panel has jurisdiction over the insurance industry whose future is seen as a linchpin of the Gulf Coast recovery. After the 2005 hurricane season, many residents and businesses in south Louisiana and Mississippi have found it hard to afford flood insurance policies -- if they can find coverage at all. Baker had said that if he became chairman, overhauling the flood-insurance system would be his top priority.
Incumbent Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Democrat representing the state's 3rd Congressional District, held onto his seat in a four-person race with 55 percent of the vote. But it's unlikely that Melancon will hold any position of power, since this will be only his second term in Washington.
Meanwhile, in Louisiana's 2nd District race, scandal-plagued incumbent Rep. William Jefferson came out on top of the crowded 13-person field with about 30 percent of the vote. But he'll face fellow Democrat Karen Carter, who captured about 21 percent of the vote, in a runoff set for Dec. 9.
The Democrats' gain is not necessarily going to be a loss for Louisiana's citizens, however. In fact, the party's promises to fix the failures of the GOP-controlled Congress and administration -- widely criticized for its response to Katrina -- could help the state's recovery efforts, former Louisiana Rep. Jimmy Hayes, a Democrat turned Republican, told the Times-Picayune:
"I think you'd have Charlie Rangel's help on Ways and Means," said Hayes, referring to the New York Democrat who is all but certain to run the tax-writing committee.
On the Financial Services Committee, Hayes said Democrats have been similarly keen on making changes that would reduce the premiums on flood insurance policies and put them within reach of more Americans.