Jeremy Alford

When Louisianans head to the polls in November, voters in only 28 parishes out of Louisiana’s 64 will cast votes for their next district attorney.

There were supposed to be 42 such elections in single- and multi-parish districts on the fall ballot, but 24 of those races have already been decided due to uncontested bids following last week’s qualifying process.

“It’s not as much a trend as it is a tradition,” said Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council.

To be sure, this isn’t the first election cycle in Louisiana with a high rate of uncontested DA races, and it certainly won’t be the last. This go around, however, those who closely track the shared universe of our district attorneys were anticipating something a little different.

The aggressive criminal justice reform efforts from the past term and the more recent discussions regarding police practices were expected to generate at least token opposition for many of the state’s district attorneys.

So why didn’t that happen? In more ways than one, our district attorneys, particularly in major metro areas, were acutely sensitive to this developing landscape since the last election cycle.

Among other operational shifts, there was more of a focus on the administration of justice, rather than win percentages, over the past term. The criminal justice reforms passed by the Legislature also pushed some district attorneys slightly to the left as they considered more diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration.

That formula may have went a long way in keeping opponents at bay. By embracing some or all of the proposed criminal justice reforms from recent years, district attorneys were able to insulate themselves from future criticisms and move more in line with public opinion on these matters.

“Public opinion kept these district attorneys from standing in their own way,” said consultant Mary-Patricia Wray, who lobbied for criminal justice changes in the Legislature and on the ballot. “They became more powerful candidates by relinquishing some of their own power.”

What remains to be seen is whether these same issues creep into the contested fall elections in some form or fashion.

Most of those ready to be sworn in are incumbents, save four brand new district attorneys. Winning for the first time without opposition were Tony Clayton, (18th Judicial District/Iberville/Pointe Coupee/West Baton Rouge), Terry Lambright (30th Judicial District/Vernon), Kevin Millican (31st Judicial District/Jefferson Davis) and Joe Green Jr. (33rd Judicial District/Allen).

Meanwhile, the incumbents re-elected without opposition included:

3rd Judicial District: John Belton

5th Judicial District: Penny Douciere

7th Judicial District: Bradley R. Burget

8th Judicial District: R.C. “Chris” Nevils

10th Judicial District: Billy “Billy Joe” Harrington

11th Judicial District: Don Burkett

13th Judicial District: Trent Brignac

19th Judicial District: Hillar Moore

20th Judicial District: “Sam” D”Aquilla

21st Judicial District: Scott M. Perrilloux

23rd Judicial District: Ricky Babin

24th Judicial District: Paul D. Connick Jr.

26th Judicial District: Schuyler Marvin

28th Judicial District: Reed Walters

29th Judicial District: Joel Chaisson II

32nd Judicial District: Joseph “Joe” Waitz Jr.

34th Judicial District: Perry Nicosia

35th Judicial District: James Patrick Lemoine

36th Judicial District: “Jimmy” Lestage

37th Judicial District: Brian Frazier

Like Scott pointed out, the election and re-election of district attorneys without opposition is more a tradition than a trend, even if the reasons are little different this year. Still, the trend should be somewhat troublesome for anyone who cares about representative democracy.

District attorneys, as elected representatives, are not as much beholden to the courts as they are to the people. Then again, maybe the people were simply satisfied with the district attorneys who were put into office this year uncontested.

Either way, we have a new slate of DAs ready to take office — and many others in competitive races around the state this fall. So if you can, vote on and engage with those races. It’s a rare luxury this election cycle.

Jeremy Alford is the publisher of LaPolitics Weekly and LaPolitics.com. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.

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