Jeremy Alford

There are currently three open seats in the Louisiana Legislature as lawmakers approach the middle of their term, and there are certainly more to come. Over the past two weeks, the Senate saw two new committee chairmen appointed and the House experienced the removal of two others. There have also been a number of rank-and-file committee changes in both chambers during the same timeframe.

Unfortunately, none of this is novel in the ongoing four-year term that commenced in January 2020. There have so far been seven special elections called by the legislative leadership to fill seats that were unexpectedly vacated. Prior to these most recent changes at the Capitol, lawmakers likewise lost or walked away high-profile seats on committees (including the House education and governmental affairs chairs) due chiefly to politics.

The turnover that took hold of the Legislature last term isn’t expected to ease its grip. The roots are running deeper than ever for partisan politics as well, which in turn is fueling some of the turnover. That’s all to say the seemingly constant changing of the guard within the Legislature’s standing committees will probably be the norm for the rest of the term, if not the foreseeable future.

Late last week, Speaker Clay Schexnayder took gavels away from two Democrats. Rep. Chad Brown of Plaquemine was removed as chairman of the insurance committee and Rep. Vincent Pierre of Lafayette suffered the same fate on the transportation committee. Additionally, Independent Rep. Daryl Adams of Jackson lost his spot on the Appropriations Committee and Democratic Rep. Travis Johnson of Vidalia was pulled off of the transportation committee.

Most of these changes in the House arrived in the wake of calls by conservatives for the speaker to hold Democrats accountable for voting with the governor during the recent veto session. Those requests have put Schexnayder in an uncomfortable position, since Democrats helped elect him as speaker and make up an important part of his base in the lower chamber.

What’s more important than the speaker removing these members will be who he replaces them with. Conservatives would obviously prefer Republicans in these key positions, but Schexnayder always has the option of choosing other Democrats. That option, however, seems unlikely.

There were also some big moves in the Senate last week, with Sen. Rick Ward of Livonia taking over as commerce chair, due to the vacancy created by former Sen. Ronnie Johns of Lake Charles. Sen. Patrick McMath has replaced Ward, meanwhile, as the new transportation chair.

McMath has benefitted from an upward trajectory since taking office last year and was a floor leader for Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette on key issues during the term’s first regular session. The two are said to be close — and Cortez did give McMath the job he personally held last term. As for Ward, his votes in the recent veto override session strengthened his conservative credentials and the Senate Commerce Committee is a decent spot from which to fundraise. If those moves don’t further fuel speculation about Ward running for governor, nothing will.

Then there are the three open seats slated for the October ballot. One of the more interesting legislative contests will take place in Lake Charles’ Senate District 27, where Businessman Dustin Granger is the lone Democrat facing Republicans Jeremy Stine, the marketing and e-commerce director of Stine Lumber and educator Jake Shaheen. Granger was beginning to make a name for himself in Democratic circles after spending the past few months laying the foundation for a challenge against Congressman Clay Higgins. Apparently those plans have been parked.

Stine is still viewed as the early favorite by locals. The business lobby will be squarely in his corner and he begins his campaign with enviable name recognition in the district. But Granger could put up a fight, depending on how much top-tier Democrats in Louisiana want to push. That, in turn, could create an environment ripe for outside spending.

There are also races in Monroe’s House District 16 and New Orleans’ House District 102 that will be decided. These races are filled exclusively with Democratic candidates. For the Monroe seat, the candidates include Adrian Fisher, president of HCBS-Cognitive Development Centers; Charles Henry Bradford, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Bastrop last cycle; and “Cocoa” McCoy Calvin.

In the New Orleans race, there are two contenders, including realtor Delisha Boyd, who has considerable establishment support, and artist Jordan Bridges.

But don’t spend too much time committing all of this new information to memory. It’s going to change — sooner probably than later.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.

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