Former Legislator Resurfaces As Cain Joins State Senate Melee

James David Cain is back! The former state representative and state senator is running for the Senate again in the Oct. 22 statewide primary.

Sen. John Smith, R-Leesville, the incumbent in Senate District 30, will have a fight on his hands from perhaps one of the best political campaigners in this neck of the woods.

The newly redrawn district takes in all of Beauregard and Vernon parishes and 26 voting precincts in Calcasieu Parish.

Terry Fowler, a Democrat from Gillis, is also seeking the Senate seat. His entry will definitely have an impact on the outcome since he is the only candidate so far from Calcasieu Parish.

Qualifying for the Oct. 22 primary takes place Sept. 6-8.

Cain, 72, a Republican, is already drawing one public retirement and he needs a few more years in office to qualify for a second state retirement. He ran for the House in 2007 when he became term-limited in the Senate, but lost a close race to Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek.

Legislators can only serve three four-year terms now, but they can switch between the House and Senate and keep running.

Cain’s public service dates back to 1972 when he became a state representative. He served in the House for 20 years and was elected to the Senate in 1991, where he served 16 years.

Signs told story

I remember the 1991 Senate election. I drove to DeRidder during the campaign to speak to a civic club there. I told club members that day Cain appeared to be a shoo-in because of the tremendous number of Cain yard signs I had seen along U.S. 171.

Whenever someone has a political sign in his or her yard, you can be sure there are some locked-in votes there. And Cain did win.

Cain defeated Allen Bradley, a state representative at the time and a firstclass lawmaker. Things turned out much better for Bradley in the private sector, but it was a hard victory to understand.

I always had plenty of material to write about when Cain was in office because he can be a colorful character. And he has a knack for cashing in on popular trends.

High insurance rates, foreign ownership of land in this country, hazardous waste and burning of the American flag were hot issues for Cain.

I remember once when he sponsored a water conservation bill only to see someone else end up getting all of the credit for the law that passed.

“They stole your bill,” I told him.

“That’s OK,” he said, “I got all of the mileage out of it I could get.”

Cain does deserve credit for taking on Bob Odom, the controversial state commissioner of agriculture. Odom was a Teflon public official who always landed on his feet. However, the questions Cain raised about Odom’s tendency to do business with his political supporters got people to look closer at the commissioner’s actions.

By the time former state Rep. Mike Strain decided to run for agriculture commissioner in 2007, Odom’s shenanigans were well-known and his days were numbered. Odom pulled out of a runoff after having served as commissioner since 1980.

My biggest beef with Cain was his support of a 1976 law that allowed teachers like him to count years of service in the Legislature towards their teacher retirement. That lucrative door was closed the next year, and Cain voted for that bill, too.

Cain became drug coordinator for the Allen Parish School Board and was able to start drawing retirement in 1990, thanks to 30.5 years of teaching credit, which included those years in the Legislature.

The total credit made it possible for Cain to retire at 51 and draw annual retirement pay totaling $44,592. He said he wasn’t responsible for his good fortune.

“I don’t make the rules, but I have to play by the rules,” he said. “If they change the rules as you go along, you still have to play by them.”

Legislators are part-time public officials. They should not be entitled to retirement and other benefits designed for full-time officials and government workers. It is one of the reasons our state’s retirement systems are terribly underfunded.

Cain started working on a legislative retirement when the voters elected him to the state Senate in 1991. I understand he needs two or three more years to cash in on that one.

However, as he said, the law makes it possible.

No new retirements

Voters approved an amendment in 1996 that eliminated future legislators and other part-time officials from retirement benefits. Seventy percent of those voting approved the amendment, and 30 percent were against it.

Legislators can’t draw retirement now, but those who were already in the system can still get credit for their public service time.

Cain has lost only two elections in his long public career. He lost a congressional race in 1986, but he came close to making the runoff. Margaret Lowenthal of Lake Charles made the runoff with Jimmy Hayes, who was elected, with 25 percent of the vote. Cain polled 24 percent.

A special election for state insurance commissioner in 2006 was another close one for Cain. Current Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon had 501 votes over the majority needed to win in the primary and keep Cain out of the runoff.

The fall elections haven’t really gotten into high gear yet, but there is already a controversy involving Cain in the Senate race. The state Republican Party has endorsed Cain, much to the dismay of Gov. Bobby Jindal, the state’s unofficial party leader. He supports Smith.

Look for a spirited campaign in Senate District 30. Whenever Cain is involved, you can definitely expect some fireworks.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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