There are two words that can be uttered inside the Capitol’s marbled walls that are capable of instantly capture the attention of any of its inhabitants: John Alario.
The Senate president’s legend looms larger in Jefferson Parish, and even more so back home in Westwego. Alario is Louisiana’s longest serving legislator, a man who held the big gavels in both chambers and he was a framer of the state Constitution.
To put things further into perspective, the first time Alario ever voted at age 18, his name was on the ballot as a candidate. But today the old political warrior is facing a crossroads — either run for his old seat in House District 83, which he was sworn into in 1972, or doing something else.
“I haven’t made a decision,” Alario said when asked last week.
In an unforgettable political twist, Alario switched from Democrat to Republican in 2010 and was endorsed for Senate president by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal just a year later. That’s an odd makeup for a candidate in House District 83, which has a Democratic registration of nearly 60 percent and a black population of 57 percent.
Should he seek a return to the House, Alario would have to win in a district that Republicans rarely emerge from victorious. Democrats, in fact, have dominated in recent regional and statewide elections (as in Mary Landrieu’s 76 percent, Barack Obama’s 69 percent, Charlie Melancon’s 64 percent and Kip Holden’s 63 percent.)
If he decides on a House bid, would Alario consider switching back to the Democratic Party? “I would run as a Republican,” he said. “I think I can do more for the district as a Republican in the current environment.”
No matter what Alario does about his party affiliation, there’s still a bit of irony attached to a potential House run. When he was elected to his current Senate seat in 2011, shortly after he became a Republican, he was dogged by questions and attacks regarding his Democratic leanings and associations. Now in 2019, any attempt to seize his old seat will be accompanied by questions about his relationship with Jindal and what it means to be a Republican.
That’s a heck of a spot to be in. “It is,” Alario agreed with a laugh, adding, “My track record is I’ve consistently worked closely with each governor I’ve served under.”
The 75-year-old senator also knows he has an ace in the hole with Gov. John Bel Edwards, who carried House District 83 with 76 percent of the vote in 2015. Should he need the help, whatever it may be, he’ll be able to count on the governor.
There’s also a likelihood that the fall ballot in Jefferson Parish will host, for the first time, two Alarios. The president’s son, Chris, is said to be considering a run for a justice of the peace post that just became available and could be called for the fall.
While the Highlander storyline has taught us “there can be only one,” there’s apparently always room for one more Alario in Jefferson. Historically, Jefferson Parish has had an affinity for political families, with multiple generations of Chehardys, Lees, Yennis and Donelons holding office there.
Adding mystery to intrigue around Alario, his campaign finance reports include “major office” and “Jefferson” inside the “office sought” box. “That’s intentional,” said Alario. “It allows me to keep my options open.”
Would the Senate president ever consider running for a job back in Jefferson Parish. “Maybe,” he said.
Whatever he does, Alario will have the jingle to let folks know he’s coming. He currently has $244,00 in his campaign account, another $318,000 in his leadership PAC and friends in every corner of Louisiana politics.
The local politicos who stroll both of Jefferson’s banks have been wondering if Alario is angling for an at-large seat on the Parish Council, which is a decent elected gig in the vast realm of local politics.
Back in Baton Rouge, lobbyists, lawmakers, reporters, cafeteria workers and receptionists can only guess what the next move will be by President Alario. Is he close to announcing his House campaign? Are local politics in his future? Something bigger? Something smaller? Medium, even? Will he retire at the end of this term?
Is the Big Man on Campus at least leaning one way or the other?
“No,” he said, clearly not yet ready to reveal what Capitoland’s residents so desperately and sincerely want to know. “I’m not leaning anywhere. At all.”