Analysis: At Least 32 Legislative Seats Open On Fall Ballot
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Looking to break into legislative politics? Because of term limits, unexpected exits and the larger political ambitions of lawmakers, this fall's election offers opportunities for those who don't want to challenge a sitting legislator.
One of every five House seats and one of every four Senate seats is open in the Oct. 24 election, without an incumbent seeking re-election. At least 32 of the 144 state legislative seats will be up for grabs without a current occupant trying to hang onto it.
The largest driving force for the vacancies is term limits, which restrict lawmakers to three consecutive terms in each chamber. Term limits are forcing out seven senators and 14 House members this election cycle.
That doesn't mean those lawmakers are necessarily leaving politics.
Unable to run for their current seats, a couple of House members are trying to move to the Senate, and at least one senator is considering a bid for the House. Others required to leave their legislative posts are vying for new elected positions, like parish president. At least one lawmaker is talking about a likely run for Congress.
Lawmakers bidding their colleagues goodbye in farewell speeches in the recent legislative session had mixed feelings about their forced exits.
"Term limits suck. I'm not ready to go yet. I've still got the fire in my belly," said Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, suggesting his exit may not be permanent.
Sen. Robert Adley, who's spent 28 years in the Louisiana Legislature between his time in the House and the Senate, had a different sentiment.
"Unlike other people, I'm not sad about this. I'm not. It's a happy day for me," he told his colleagues. "I just pray that I've given it the dignity and the work ethic that it deserves."
Indirectly, term limits also are opening up another five House seats. The lawmakers haven't hit their cap in the House, but they see an opportunity with vacant Senate seats and are running for those instead, hoping voters will let them move to the upper chamber.
Two other lawmakers have their sights set higher, leaving legislative seats in hopes of winning statewide positions. Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, is running for governor, while Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas, is seeking the lieutenant governor's job.
One House seat is open for the saddest of reasons. Rep. Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge, a lawyer completing his first term, died unexpectedly last week from knee surgery complications.
At least three legislators are leaving their positions simply to do something else in life, an inexplicable reason to some of their colleagues.
Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, resigned in June to take a job as executive director of the Louisiana Asphalt Pavement Association. Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, said he wasn't running again to focus more on business and family.
The most recent surprise came from Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, who said he wanted to devote his time and energy to his wife and four sons, rather than driving the more than 220 miles to Baton Rouge for legislative work. He had no announced challenger.
"I am at peace with my God and in my spirit in making this decision," Gallot said in a statement.
Besides forced or volunteered exits, still other lawmakers might be ousted by challengers. Several House and Senate members seeking re-election face strong, well-financed competitors; some are targeted for opposition from business organizations.
In this year's legislative session, term-limited lawmakers offered unsolicited advice to those who will be newly elected or returning.
"We can do a lot of great work for the state of Louisiana if we remember one thing: a political party didn't send us to Baton Rouge, citizens did," House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said in his farewell speech.
Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, warned his colleagues: "You only have two things here, your word and your vote."
Term limits will wipe out even more lawmakers in four years. Depending on the fall election's outcome, as many as 40 percent of the Legislature's members could be unable to run for re-election in 2019.
– by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte