One of the developments we’ve been watching as the 2019 election cycle gets started is what’s beginning to look like a conservative wave building in Louisiana legislative elections as candidate recruitment spins up on the part of some of the institutional players – especially for some of the legislative seats which will open up thanks to term limits. There will be an enormous turnover, for example, in the Senate – and from a conservative perspective that body could undergo a very dramatic transformation as a result.
Let’s understand that from a conservative perspective the Senate has been THE problem with respect to Louisiana state government for quite some time. There is no particular reason why that body should be any different than the House – Senate districts aren’t drawn any different than House districts are in terms of the composition of the voters therein, and there is no particular difference in the role of a state senator from that of a state representative. The main reason the Senate as currently constituted (there are 25 Republicans out of 39 Senators) has such a record of tax-and-spend economic policies and shady governmental overreach largely has to do with time and term limits.
Also, remember that 2007 was the first election cycle touched by legislative term limits put in place several years earlier, and in that cycle a large number of Senate seats came open and were filled by then-House members who themselves had been termed out of their seats. The most prominent of those, of course, being the current Senate president John Alario, who had been in the House since 1972 and was termed out of his House seat; after one term as a back-bencher Alario won the presidency of the Senate in January of 2012 and has held it since, and Alario is the avatar for old-time crooked Louisiana politics complete with its Huey Long-style tax policies and government-centric fiscal approach.
Alario’s leadership is one reason why the budget dynamic at the Louisiana legislature is what it is. Namely, the House will get the state budget every year and do what it can to scrub out the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in waste, which then results in the state bureaucracy cooking up Chicken Little scenarios by which developmentally disabled children will be fed to the alligators in the swamp or old ladies in nursing homes will be forced to take up prostitution, such are the calamitous effects of minor budget cuts to state agencies, and then the budget will go over to the Senate where all of those cuts are then restored. When Bobby Jindal was governor, the money to pay for that bureaucratic swag was found in dedicated accounts and in one-time revenue – now with John Bel Edwards occupying the fourth floor of the State Capitol, it’s tax increases which are the panacea. Either way, Alario is with the bureaucrats, and the Senate follows his lead.
But Alario is gone after next year, and a number of his colleagues are gone as well. Most, it appears, will be replaced with much more conservative Senators in January 2020.
Here’s a quick rundown of changes to the Senate which are possible, if not likely, due to term limits. In a future post we’ll talk about seats likely to change hands due to electoral challenges, of which there are a handful.
Democrat Jean-Paul J. Morrell, District 3 (New Orleans) – Morrell’s exit won’t produce a conservative by any means, but it will likely make things a little better by getting rid of one of the Louisiana legislature’s more ardent schemers. He was one of the architects of a Democrat end run around the House’s attempts to hold down the size of tax increases in the 2018 special sessions this year, gutting a House-passed bill in the Senate Finance Committee in order to turn it into a substitute budget and attempt to force-feed a massive tax hike down taxpayers’ throats. That didn’t work, but the fact Morrell was willing to do it means getting rid of him is a bonus. It isn’t known just yet what the field will look like in District 3, but one name rumored likely to enter it is Democrat state representative Joe Bouie, who wouldn’t be much of an improvement. Seeing as though Donald Trump won all of 23 percent of the vote in District 3 in 2016, the seat is and always was a lost cause.
Republican John A. Alario, Jr District 8 (Westwego) – Alario has told various folks in the New Orleans area he’s retiring and isn’t going to run for another legislative seat (legally, he could run in his old House district), which would mean that for the first time in 48 years Louisiana would be free of its most flamboyantly corrupt legislator. That means progress no matter who replaces him. The most talked-about potential candidate in District 8 so far seems to be Republican Rep. Patrick Connick, who ideologically isn’t a whole lot different from Alario. But from the standpoint of the power shift Alario’s exit would create, this change would have to be considered a pickup.
Republican Conrad Appel, District 9 (Metairie) – Obviously, we’ll be sorry to see Appel go, as he’s been perhaps the most reliable, outspoken conservative in the body. He says he’s done with elective office, even though there are lots of people who would very much like to see him run for governor. But what’s encouraging is that Appel’s likely replacement in District 9 is going to be someone who’ll ably carry the torch – namely current House Appropriations Committee chair Cameron Henry, who’s termed out of his seat and will be coming over to the Senate with the endorsement of the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority. Henry is likely to become a sizable power broker as soon as he enters the body. Consider this seat a hold for conservatives.
Republican Daniel “Danny” Martiny, District 10 (Kenner) – Martiny has been Alario’s Senate partner-in-crime for seemingly forever, and of all the Senators being tossed out by term limits his exit might be the most gratifying. He likely wouldn’t have much of a chance at re-election to this seat anyway, judging by the thrashing he took last year at the hands of Jefferson Parish Councilman Dominick Impastato for the seat Impastato currently holds. LCCM has already endorsed State Rep. Kirk Talbot for District 10, and Talbot is a virtual lock to win the seat. If he does, this becomes one of the biggest ideological (and political hygiene) pickups in the whole Senate.
Republican Jack Donahue, District 11 (Covington) – Donahue has been more or less on board with Appel throughout his time in the Senate, so his exit would signify the loss of one of the body’s most conservative members. But in District 11 you’re not getting elected unless you demonstrate you’re a strong conservative, so this seat is going to be a hold for the movement unless something completely unlikely were to occur. State Rep. Reid Falconer of Mandeville has announced he’s running, and Falconer has already received the endorsement of the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority. So far he seems to be the odds-on favorite to win, and Falconer would signify a pretty seamless transition.
Republican Dale M. Erdey, District 13 (Livingston) – Erdey’s district is another in which it’s near impossible for anyone but a conservative to win, though at times he’s been a disappointment in that regard; he’s really good on the God-and-guns stuff, but where it comes to fiscal policy and the role of state government he’s often a mess. That means his seat changing over might turn out to be a pickup for conservatives, in the sense there’s a chance to get more of a full-spectrum conservative in that seat. But so far there isn’t a superstar conservative candidate who’s surfaced – one reason perhaps being that state representative J. Rogers Pope of Denham Springs, who’s generally good on the issues if school choice and tort reform are not on the table, is talking about running.
Democrat Yvonne Colomb, District 14 (Baton Rouge) – Colomb’s district, which runs from Scotlandville through downtown Baton Rouge and ends all the way down near the Country Club of Louisiana along the Mississippi River, couldn’t possibly flip from Democrat to Republican. But it might be a significant pickup opportunity nonetheless, as some conservatives are discussing. That’s because Cleo Fields, who held the district before Colomb won it and was termed out in the 2007 cycle, is running again. Fields is no conservative, but he is somebody who can at least be bargained with. His likely opponent, hard leftist state representative Pat Smith, cannot be. Fields will likely be a heavy favorite.
Republican Dan Claitor, District 16 (Baton Rouge) – Claitor’s seat is one of the real wild cards of all the legislative races in next year’s cycle, as it’s the one with the largest panoply of rumored candidates in it. Most of the names thrown around are garden-variety Republicans as it can be said Claitor is – state representatives Steve Carter and Franklin Foil are possibilities, businessman Scott McKnight ran against Claitor in 2015 and had a fairly decent showing, Metro Councilman Chandler Loupe’s name has been floated. If you’re looking for a hard-core conservative, former Navy captain and occasional candidate Bob Bell has also entered the race, and Bell would fit that bill.
Republican Norby Chabert, District 20 (Houma) – Chabert is the consummate definition of a RINO (he switched from Democrat after the Obama drilling moratorium in the Gulf essentially made membership in that party politically untenable in the Bayou Parishes), and he’s known for strange antics in the late hours after legislative sessions have ended. He’s the scion of an old Terrebonne Parish political family and his exit is a great opportunity to turn the page from Louisiana’s bad old days. LCCM has endorsed businessman Mike Fesi, who ran unsuccessfully against Chabert in 2011; Fesi would signify a colossal pickup succeeding Chabert and make the Louisiana Senate a better place on a whole raft of levels.
Republican Dan “Blade” Morrish, District 25 (Jennings) – Morrish is another old-school Louisiana pol who’s been in the legislature since 2000, and the “R” by his name hasn’t meant much; his LABI scores from 2015 to the present, for example, were 39 in 2015, 41 in 2016 and 42 in 2017 before rising slightly to 68 this year. Getting better than this isn’t difficult, particularly in a district which went 76 percent for both Donald Trump and John Kennedy in 2016. LCCM hasn’t made an endorsement in this race yet, but the favorite so far appears to be state representative Mark Abraham – who despite the fact he’s had a few votes irritating conservatives has a considerably better record than Morrish – Abraham’s LABI scores over the past three years since taking office were 51 in 2016 and 100 in both 2017 and this year.
Democrat Eric LaFleur District 28 (Ville Platte) – LaFleur represents a district Trump won with 70 percent of the vote in 2016 and Kennedy won with 68 percent in the Senate race that year, which makes him something of a sore thumb in the legislature. He’s an old-school pol who’s engaged in old-school shady activity – for example, it was LaFleur earlier this year who magically found cuts in the state’s Department of Health at the end of the budget process when the department had stonewalled the House’s examination of where savings could be found. Losing LaFleur means the Democrats will be running out of supposed centrists (he’s not one), and there’s an excellent chance of this seat becoming a D-to-R flip with a strong conservative winning it. Turkey Creek mayor Heather Cloud, who earned some good notices during her primary campaign for Secretary of State, is shaping up to be the favorite in this race, and that has lots of conservatives excited.
Republican John R. Smith, District 30 (Leesville) – Smith’s district might be the most conservative in the whole state if you go by the 2016 elections; Trump won it with 83 percent of the vote and Kennedy picked up 81 percent. And yet for the last three years his LABI scores have been 51, 47 and 71. Safe to say this is a pickup opportunity for conservatives, and as it happens there is at least one candidate in the race who looks promising. His name is Mike Reese, and he’s a businessman in Leesville who’s made a name as the president of Ft. Polk Progress, an organization supporting the military base and the folks working there. By all accounts this would be a sizable improvement. Democrat state representative James Armes’ name has also come up in connection with the District 30 seat. We wouldn’t expect Armes, whose LABI scores of 21, 4 and 31 the past three years mark him as a pretty left-wing legislator, to have much chance against a conservative in that district.
Republican Gerald Long, District 31 (Winnfield) – Long is another old-school pol whose exit will remove a vestige of the bad old days. His LABI scores over the past three years (36, 64 and 68) don’t really represent how obnoxious he’s been – the best argument for that was his shameful ramming-through of a name change to put his brother Jimmy’s name on the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts last year. Long’s district is heavily Republican; it went 73 percent for Trump and 71 percent for Kennedy in 2016, but it’s likely going to be the scene of a tough electoral fight. Alexandria mayor Jacques Roy, a Democrat, is rumored to be readying a campaign, and Republican Natchitoches Clerk of Court Louie Bernard is already running. Winnfield lawyer and occasional Hayride contributor Keith Gates is also considering the race; Gates would be the best chance to make the seat a conservative pickup.
Republican Neil Riser, District 32 (Columbia) – Riser has been one of the best conservatives in the Senate for the last 12 years, but for some unfortunate reason that hasn’t earned him a reward in races for bigger positions – losing a congressional race in 2015 to Vance McAllister and a special election for Treasurer in 2017. His district, carried by both Trump and Kennedy with 77 percent of the vote in the 2016 elections, will elect a conservative, though we hear Democrat state representative Andy Anders may run (Anders’ last three LABI scores: 16, 38 and 31). Republican John Stephens, who unsuccessfully ran for House District 22 and lost a 6,627-6,026 decision to independent Terry Brown, has been mentioned as a possibility; so has state representative Steve Pylant of Rayville. It’s not a sure thing anybody will be as stout a conservative as Riser, but this should still be a right-leaning seat in January of 2020.
Republican Mike Walsworth, District 33 (Monroe) – Walsworth, like Riser, has been one of the best conservatives in the Senate, and losing him to term limits will hurt a bit. But in a district Trump carried with 70 percent of the vote and Kennedy carried with 72 in 2016, it’s a sure thing a conservative Republican will replace Walsworth. We’re excited about the possibility that Afghanistan veteran Stewart Cathey, who ran unsuccessfully for the District 35 Senate seat in 2015 and was the victim of some disgustingly ugly politics in that race, is preparing to run for this seat – Cathey is a solid conservative and a businessman and he’ll keep the flame lit.
Democrat Francis Thompson, District 34 (Delhi) – Thompson has been in the Louisiana legislature since 1973, which qualifies him to be considered as a piece of furniture at the Capitol. It turns out that even term limits won’t keep him away, as he’s supposedly going to run for his old House seat – something that even Alario we understand won’t do. Replacing him with a Republican isn’t really possible; District 34 went 70 percent for Hillary Clinton and 66 percent for Foster Campbell in 2016, so this will stay a Democrat seat. What we understand is that state representative Katrina Jackson of Monroe is the likely successor to Thompson.