With state Rep. Jeff Thompson’s election as a 26th District judge, the process of picking his successor, depending how it’s done, creates conditions that could leave district residents better or worse off.
At the end of qualifying, no one but Thompson signed up to run for the District B slot to succeed Ford Stinson, automatically putting him in line to be sworn in early next year. To do so, he must resign his current office before then. State law says that when the presiding officer of the chamber, in this instance Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, receives notice of a resignation when more than six months of a member’s term remains (Thompson’s expires in early 2016) without a regularly scheduled election prior to a session’s start, he may designate a qualification period and election date.
Historically, in these kinds of situations where a November election produces a legislative vacancy, presiding officers have scheduled a special election anywhere from the end of January to early March. Thompson plans on this as he has expressed intent to resign at the end of the year. He may not be alone: over a half dozen other legislators (including state Rep. Patrick Williams for Shreveport mayor) are running for various posts with them not as lucky as he by being an earlier winner. If any win, some may do so on Nov. 4 and others on Dec. 6. The idea, then, would be that by the latter date all who will need to resign will know, these will happen, and the replacement elections will be held together statewide early in 2015.
But because Thompson is now officially elected after the candidate challenge period ended at the end of August, if he resigned immediately possibly that special election could occur on the regular Nov. 4 date, or it could be scheduled for the designated runoff date Dec. 6, where it’s almost certain that runoffs for one or more offices will require every polling place in the state to be open. That Dec. 6 date could itself produce a runoff, but that could be resolved during other special legislative elections if needed. While it doesn’t matter to district taxpayers because the state pays for legislative elections, as far as state taxpayers go at worst they’d be no worse off having this particular election early, and they might better off if none of the other legislative candidates win their general elections, so there would be no need for an election outside of an already-scheduled election date and would produce some savings of state money.
Although saving the state money by resigning soon is unlikely to happen give the vagaries of elections, there’s a much more concrete benefit to constituents: this is the slack period for almost all legislators, with the first bill filings not to occur until late February, and for some their advertising beginning in late January. That means that unless a successor is in office by late January – practically impossible if a resignation does not occur until the end of the year – such bills could not be filed on retirement, and about a month later for local matters for District 8. However, one would hope in this circumstance that those residents’ state senator, Robert Adley, would pitch in for that area.
More generally, a later election throws a new person right into the fire, with the session starting on Apr. 13. If assuming office with much more advance notice and during a slow period, the new representative can get up to speed more in advance and comprehensively. And about the only decision of consequence that Thompson might have to make between now and then, absent an entirely unanticipated special session, would be as a member of the Joint Legislative Committee on Capital Outlay to consider “late” capital outlay requests for next year’s budget.
An earlier election would provide less lead time for campaigning. But as soon as qualifying ended, anybody interested in the office now knows it has come vacant, and no doubt some already have started planning to run to succeed him, so nobody would be advantaged by any surprise factor.
Politicians naturally desire to hold onto power as long as possible. But in line now to start earning a six-figure salary with a six-year term (and historically having a great chance to serve through reelections into his seventies), for his district Thompson may wish to have discretion serve as the better part of valor by not waiting until the last moment to release his hold on that office.