Louisiana Spotlight: Legislative races offer intrigue
BATON ROUGE — While the Louisiana governor’s race will draw more attention, much of the political intrigue will come in races lower on the Oct. 12 ballot, particularly in the competition for state legislative seats.
Term limits are forcing another juggling of the House and Senate. Legislators who have been friends, seatmates and allies in the House are running against each other for Senate seats. Ex-lawmakers are trying to return to old positions, including one man who resigned rather than face likely Senate expulsion. And conservative Republicans are trying to gain power in a Senate where they’ve had minimal influence so far.
Last week’s three-day candidate registration period ended speculation about who might be entering the competitions and firmed up the field of contenders for the 144 legislative positions, along with the other races on the fall ballot.
More than 40% of the Senate members (16 out of 39 senators) and nearly 30% of the House (31 out of 105 members) were unable to run again for their seats, including Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Taylor Barras.
Several lawmakers, including some fed up with the workload and partisan fighting across 11 legislative sessions in the four-year term, didn’t run for re-election or left their positions before the term was complete.
The vacancies created opportunities for contenders who didn’t want to take on an incumbent. In addition, House lawmakers who weren’t term-limited signed up for Senate races, hoping to seize open seats — creating other vacancies in the House.
Twenty House members are vying for Senate seats. Three of them — Patrick Connick, a Marrero Republican; Jimmy Harris, a New Orleans Democrat; and Katrina Jackson, a Monroe Democrat — won those Senate races immediately, when no one signed up to run against them by the close of the qualifying period.
Other House lawmakers are running against each other for Senate positions, such as Democrats John Bagneris and Joe Bouie, seeking a New Orleans-based Senate district, and Republicans Mark Abraham of Lake Charles and Johnny Guinn of Jennings, seeking a southwest Louisiana-based Senate seat.
In an interesting political twist, Republican Reps. Steve Carter and Franklin Foil, who have been long-time House seatmates and friends, are now among five contenders for a Baton Rouge-based Senate job.
Two House members are challenging incumbent senators. Republican Rep. Jay Morris of Monroe, along with another GOP opponent, is trying to oust Republican Sen. Jim Fannin of Jonesboro. And Democratic Rep. Barbara Norton is among three contenders running against Democratic Sen. Greg Tarver for the Shreveport-based seat Tarver holds.
Cleo Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat forced out of the Senate by term limits, is trying to return to his old seat, facing off against Rep. Patricia Smith, a Baton Rouge Democrat who can’t run for House re-election.
Democrat Troy Brown has apparently reconsidered his February 2017 decision to resign from the Senate rather than face likely expulsion after he was involved in two domestic violence incidents. He’s registered to challenge Democrat Ed Price, of Gonzales, who currently holds that Senate seat.
Looking at the full electoral map, the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority — led by U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and Attorney General Jeff Landry — will be putting its PAC money behind Republican candidates it hopes can shift the Legislature rightward.
In particular, the PAC wants to build a new configuration of the Senate that’s less moderate and less willing to work with Democrat John Bel Edwards, if he’s re-elected as governor. The organization could be particularly impactful as many long-time Republican moderates in the Senate couldn’t sign up for re-election because of term limits.
Two senators termed out of their current jobs — Republican Neil Riser and Democrat Francis Thompson — wanted to stay in the Legislature, so they signed up to run for House seats. Thompson will easily return to his former House seat, after drawing no opposition.
Thompson was among 37 House lawmakers and 12 senators elected without competition, one-third of the Legislature. Two unopposed House candidates taking office in January — Republicans Michael Echols of Monroe and Thomas Pressly of Shreveport — have never served in the Legislature.
Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte