Lobbyists, candidates, incumbents and consultants have been on pins and needles this week. They’re ready for qualifying to come and go, for the sign-up process for elections brings with it some certainty.
Qualifying this year runs from Tuesday, Aug. 6, to Thursday, Aug. 8. For this past few years, this brief snapshot of time has been highly anticipated and regarded as a turning point for the next term of state government.
The agitation and suspense could be clearly seen this past weekend in the faces of lawmakers seeking re-election. Peppering a few with questions, I could even hear it in their voices.
What do you think about January’s leadership elections? Will the incoming governor have any sway over the election of the speaker and president?
“Ask me after qualifying,” was the response a handful of lawmakers provided.
Many of the incumbents, however, may have nothing to worry about. For the most part, legislative diehards have been focusing on the impact term-limited lawmakers will have, with their new replacements coming on in 2020.
That’s why lobbyists and reporters have been focusing largely on one statistic: 40 percent. That’s roughly the number of seats that will turnover this cycle due to term limits.
But there’s another figure worth keeping in mind as we approach qualifying: 44 percent. That’s the percentage of seats in both the House and Senate that appear to be unopposed based on LaPolitic’s own tracking process and the spreadsheets maintained by a number of associations and legislative players.
That amounts to 64 seats out of 144 in the Louisiana Legislature, including seven races hosting a sole candidate who would become a true freshman next term. (Fair warning: this isn’t a science. If you would prefer to wait for the actual count, it will be come available when qualifying closes Thursday, Aug. 8.)
This trend is more significant in the Senate, where 19 members appear unopposed for now, including three possible freshman, all from the House (Reps. Pat Connick in Senate District 8, Cameron Henry in SD9 and Kirk Talbot in SD10). If those lineups stick, 48 percent of the Senate will be returning in 2020.
The numbers get heavier in the House, where there appears to be 45 seats unopposed, including four races with freshman-wannabes.
(If you’re an absolute political nerd, I’ve got you covered. The clear fields in Senate races, prior to redistricting, appeared to include districts 1, 4-10, 17-19, 21-24, 26-27, 29 and 34. As for House, the incumbent seats that look safe at the moment include districts 2-4, 7-14, 16, 23, 25-27, 29, 35, 41-42, 44, 47, 49, 52-53, 56, 58-61, 64-65, 69, 72, 81-82, 85-86, 90, 92 and 101-105.)
Look, this ain’t gonna be your grandad’s legislative election cycle. That’s for sure.
For starters, there have been lawmakers resigning early or dropping out of races unexpectedly at the last minute, like Reps. Johnny Berthelot (HD88), Nancy Landry (HD31), and Julie Stokes (HD79). These resignations left associations and legislative players scrambling to fill holes with candidates they can live with.
Then there are ghosts from politics past who are resurfacing, some we never thought would, like former Sens. Cleo Fields (SD14) and Troy Brown (SD2). Fields was one of the unindicted co-conspirators involved in the riverboat gaming trial of former Gov. Edwin Edwards, and Brown resigned in 2017 in the wake of charges related to domestic abuse.
And one-time legislators who want a new start across Memorial Hall, like former Reps. Damon Baldone (SD20/CHABERT/OPEN) and Brett Geymann (SD30/SMITH/OPEN). Both men were fortunate enough to miss this last term of state government.
Let’s not forget about former Rep. Herman Ray Hill, who is running to replace his wife Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, who originally replaced him in HD32. Plus politico Charles Henry, who is running to replace his brother Rep. Cameron Henry in HD82.
Coming from the upper chamber, Sens. Francis Thompson (HD19) and Neil Riser (HD20) want to downgrade their positions to House seats. (Interesting side note: Riser came to the Senate when he won a 2007 runoff election against another legislator who wanted to switch chambers, former Rep. Bryant Hammett.)
As for Senate President John Alario, if you don’t already know I’m not going to tell you. (Alright. I’ll tell you if you don’t know. The legislative godfather is packing it up and going home.)
In the lower chamber, there are 17 reps who want Senate seats, of which four are freshman. The most interesting of those races pit legislator against legislator, like:
• SD3: Reps. Joe Bouie and John Bagneris
• SD16: Reps. Franklin Foil and Steve Carter
• SD25: Rep. Johnny Guinn and Mark Abraham
• SD28: Reps. Bernard LeBas and Robert Johnson
• SD35: Sen. Jim Fannin and Rep. Jay Morris
• SD39: Sen. Greg Tarver and Rep. Barbara Norton
From the House, there are also a few others whop want upgraded seats, including Reps. Reid Falconer (SD11), Rogers Pope (SD13), Pat Smith (SD14) and James Armes (SD30).
So if you look on your local ballot this year and you don’t have an active legisdlsatiie race to track, just remember everywhere else around the state Legislpalooza 2019 is rocking and rolling and entertaining politicos elsewhere.
Politics is, after all, a spectator sport in Louisiana.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.