It was a momentous event Friday – John Alario, a mainstay of Louisiana politics for the better part of four decades, was leaving the marble palace he had dominated for so many years.
Alario, the outgoing Senate President, is stepping down on account of term limits, 48 years into his legislature tenure. The sheer amount of power the Westwego Democrat-turned-Republican wielded over the state legislature was almost unbelievable. His opposition to a particular bill would almost always guarantee its failure. At 18, Alario was already running for public office. He is quite surely the definition of a career politician. In December 2010, as a freshman Senator, Alario delivered one of his most shocking moments as he switched from Democrat to Republican. He would go on to run for Senate President just over a year later, and he’d receive multiple high-level endorsements from prominent Republican leaders, namely Governor Bobby Jindal. There was no credible opposition to his election as President of a majority-Republican Senate despite his having been one of the most powerful Democrats of the Edwin Edwards era in Louisiana politics.
As Louisiana begins to reflect on John Alario’s time in Baton Rouge, one question remains: Although he has termed out, Alario is still eligible to for the State House in District 83. Could a flip back across the marble keep the 76-year old politician as a power player in the State Capitol?
In the past, Alario has made several ambiguous comments in relation to him remaining in the legislature. One remark testifying before a committee on a bill with a 2020 sunset clause went as far as to quip, “I might still be in the House then.”
Since it’s entirely possible we could see John Alario on a ballot in the fall, analyzing his chances seems to be the next step. District 83 is overwhelmingly Democratic with an African American population of 57%. Republicans have historically performed poorly in the district. In national and statewide elections, it has been absolute Democrat domination – Donald Trump earned only 33 percent of the District 83 vote in the 2016 presidential election, while John Kennedy just 34 percent in the 2016 Senate runoff. Mary Landrieu throttled Bill Cassidy 77-23 in the 2014 Senate runoff in District 83, and David Vitter managed just 24 percent in the 2015 gubernatorial runoff. Clearly, the “R” next to his name which helped Alario spend two terms running the state senate won’t be an asset in the District 83 race.
In steps Alario’s potential challenger and quite possibly the man who removes him from the corridors of power, James C. Simmons. Simmons is an African American pastor at Beacon Light International Baptist Church and a well-respected community leader from the Westbank. Simmons is garnering attention with his illustrious #imwithJC canvassing team. Such a promising upstart opponent hitting the ground running can’t excite one Senator John Alario.
With that said, Alario has reason to be optimistic about his 2020 chances. He was sitting on $244,000 in his official campaign account as of the end of the 2018 year, a lot more than Simmons will be holding, as well as access to countless PAC’s swelling with money. Combine this with a 100 percent name ID and multitudes of favors owed by local pols in the district, and he’s going to be a tough institutional nut to crack for a newbie like Simmons. But the Capitol is rife with speculation; nobody knows whether Alario will make the race or not.
What’s known, particularly in conservative circles, is that Alario aiming to make it 52 years in the Louisiana legislature threatens to make the House an impediment to real reform just as the Senate has been. That’s already something of a concern given that other termed-out senators are also considering running for House seats. Neil Riser has a record as a conservative reformer and his announcement he’d be running in House District 20, a seat currently held by Republican Steve Pylant, doesn’t scare anybody; Francis Thompson, one of the last of the old-school Democrats running for District 19, a seat currently held by Republican (at least in name) Bubba Chaney, does. A House with dinosaurs like Alario and Thompson cutting old-school deals and running old-school political games is a step back, many say.
And that might well result in Simmons finding lots of unexpected allies on the right should he be facing Alario this fall.