Sam Hanna Jr.

Next January when the new Legislature takes office, some 40 percent of its members will be fresh faces.

Explained succinctly, this fall’s elections will mark the second time since term limits for lawmakers were enacted in 1995 that we will witness a major shakeup in the composition of the Legislature. Proponents of term limits say that’s a good thing. I disagree.

In our neck of the woods here in northeastern Louisiana, the term-limit bug bit Sens. Neil Riser, Francis Thompson and Mike Walsworth though the three men say they aren’t done with politics. Riser is a candidate for the House of Representatives in District 20 while Thompson is running for his old House seat in District 19. Walsworth is a candidate for Clerk of Court in Ouachita Parish.

In the House, state Reps. Andy Anders in District 21, Bubba Chaney in District 19 and Frank Hoffmann in District 15 are all term-limited. Anders considered running for the Senate in District 32 but opted for the Clerk of Court’s race in Concordia Parish instead. Chaney and Hoffmann are retiring.

Term-limit purists would suggest Riser and Thompson are violating the spirit of the term-limits law in light of their candidacies for the House. A detractor of term limits — like me — might say the House could benefit from Riser’s and Thompson’s institutional knowledge, particularly Thompson who has served in the Legislature since 1976.

Back in the mid-1990s, term limits were all the rage thanks to an active movement against so-called career politicians. Voters were angry and looking for a vehicle to use to shake up government. Term limits fit the bill, or so the voting public thought.

Though term limits were not applicable for the Congress, the voting public across the country revolted against a Democrat-controlled Congress in the 1994 election cycle and handed Republicans control of the House for the first time since the 1954 elections. Republicans took control of the Senate, too, flipping eight seats while unseating two incumbent Democrats along the way.

In Louisiana in 1995, the anti-status quo movement took hold as well with Republicans defeating a host of long-term Democrat lawmakers such as Sens. Armand Brinkhaus, Sammy Nunez and B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn.

The atmosphere that made it possible for the electorate to turn out heavyweights like Rayburn, who had served in the Legislature for 48 years, paved the way for the passage of a constitutional amendment limiting lawmakers to no more than three consecutive terms in the House or Senate. The amendment was mum on lawmakers running for the House when their time in the Senate had run its course, or vice versa.

Our friends who subscribe to the theory that term limits represent an effective instrument to root out so-called career politicians should be commended for their commitment to “good government.” They should be reminded, though, that term limits were not necessary in 1994 to turn the Congress on its head. The voters did it, and they did it because they had a choice in front of them when they went behind a curtain to cast a vote.

The same could be said for 1995 when Louisiana voters got a belly full of the status quo and defeated long-time elected officials like Brinkhaus, Nunez and Rayburn.

Those who deal with the Louisiana Legislature on a fairly regular basis will tell you that term limits have had a dramatic impact on the Legislature as a functioning body. The institutional knowledge among lawmakers, by and large, isn’t what it used to be. Unfortunately, that has empowered career bureaucrats and lobbyists to fill the void. And whose interests do you think they have in mind?

Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at samhannajr@samhannajr.com.

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