Politics, Physics, and Attempted Musical Chairs: State Senate Races

With qualifying completed last week, the names that will be on the October 12 primary ballots are now official. This is the first of several articles on the Louisiana legislative races, delving into each of the 144 seats – 39 in the Senate, 105 in the House – and the people who would fill them.

Louisiana’s legislative bodies are now feeling the full effects of term limits, most notably in the state Senate, where 16 of 39 Senators (41%) are ineligible to return to the upper chamber this year. Yet in the Senate (and in some measure, in the House, as well) the laws of physics seem to be having a substantial effect on the politics of lawmaking.

Memorial Hall, facing open door of Louisiana Senate chamber. Credit: Sue Lincoln

Newton’s 1st Law: Inertia

“Every object in a state of uniform motion will remain in that state of motion unless an external force acts on it.”

Although the stated purpose of term limits was to move more fresh faces and fresh thinking into the lawmaking process, it seems to have also promoted inertia, manifested as a type of apathy, for a fair amount of legislative positions that have incumbents who are not yet term-limited out.

(We even use language that promotes the concept that these seats are the property of the incumbent. Those that have no eligible incumbent are called “open”, implying that they are “closed” – even though every legislative seat is open for candidates every four years.)

Nine incumbents to Senate seats – nearly one quarter of the entire body — are being re-elected to those positions without opposition. No one even tried to run against them.

Republican Sharon Hewitt of Slidell will serve a second term representing the people of the 1st senatorial district, while Democrat Troy Carter of New Orleans will have a second term serving the 7th district. And Eddie Lambert (R-Gonzales) gets a second term representing residents in Ascension, Livingston and St. James parishes, as well.

The inertia effect is more obvious in that six senators seeking their third and final terms did not encounter any resistance. All are Republicans.

Port Allen’s Rick Ward didn’t get anyone to challenge him, so he’ll be doing his third term as senator for the folks in the 17th district. Gary Smith of Norco returns to the Capitol for a third term as 19th district senator. Bret Allain of Jeanerette, Fred Mills from St. Martinville, and Page Cortez of Lafayette will be back in Huey’s halls for their third terms on behalf of the people of the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd districts, respectively. Additionally, Ronnie Johns of Sulphur returns for his third term serving the 27th district – the citizens of Calcasieu Parish.

Newton’s 2nd Law

“Force equals mass times acceleration.”

(Okay, I know this is a bit of a stretch, but bear with me.)

Chamber-hopping has become a by-product of term limits, and is often referred to as “musical chairs”. As musical chairs is played in a circle, and things that travel in a circle are being acted upon by centrifugal force, we have F=ma, or

Musical Chairs: Attempted and Otherwise

Three members of Louisiana’s House who were seeking to plant their rear ends in senate seats vacated by term limits managed to avoid that awkward musical chairs moment of finding someone else in their lap.

Senate President John Alario, center. Credit: Sue Lincoln

Patrick Connick (R-Harvey), term-limited out of the House this election cycle, slides into John Alario’s 8th district senate seat without opposition. Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe) was eligible for one more term in the lower chamber, but she will be moving into the 34th district seat in the upper chamber, which Francis Thompson is required to vacate.

Additionally, state Rep. Jimmy Harris (D-New Orleans) rolled smoothly into the 4th district senate seat, presently held by Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans). Harris is just completing his first term in the House. Bishop, who previously served three House terms, was first elected to the Senate four years ago. But a New Orleans’ TV station’s investigative report revealed Bishop, whose non-legislative job is as a vice-chancellor with Southern University-New Orleans, claimed and was paid for 122 “sick days” over a three-year period. Those days were actually spent in legislative sessions in Baton Rouge. He repaid the money, more than $20,500, this past spring, and sent out a statement on Aug. 2, announcing he would not be seeking re-election this fall.

But those were the easy games of musical chairs. There are other rounds that promise complications, as multiple current and former legislators – primarily House members – seek the same seat.

One race that has the potential for verbal pushing and shoving is District 2, which includes portions of eight parishes along the Mississippi River. Basically this is the industrial corridor frequently referred to as “Cancer Alley.” Ed Price (D-Gonzales), formerly a House member, claimed the seat in a May 2017 special election. That was necessitated by Troy Brown’s essentially forced resignation, as members of the upper chamber prepared to expel him in February 2017.

Last week, Brown qualified to run for the seat he had so reluctantly and bitterly relinquished two-and-a-half years ago.

The 3rd district senate seat presently occupied by the unparalleled (and sadly, term-limited) J.P. Morrell (D-New Orleans)has drawn a field of four: three African-American male Democrats, and a while female Republican. Neither Rep. John Bagneris nor Rep. Joseph Bouie is term-limited in the House – in fact, each is wrapping up his initial terms in the lower chamber. But both are willing to give up a potentially easier race as an incumbent, and instead taking the chance of winning over sufficient voters in a district of more than 116,000 residents, as opposed to House districts which each represent an average of over 43,000 people.

And while the district should be “safely Democratic” (because of the way it was drawn in 2011), having three (male) Democrats vying for the same philosophically aligned pool of voters in the jungle primary, that possibly opens the door for the female Republican to garner enough votes to slip into a runoff.

Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb (D-Baton Rouge) is term-limited out of the 14th senatorial district seat, and Rep. Patricia Smith is term-limited out of her House seat. Smith wants to move to the senate, but she’ll have to go head-to-head with a former state senator.

Cleo Fields, who had served in the state Senate, then in Congress, run (unsuccessfully) for governor, and ultimately returned to the state Senate in 1997, ran afoul of a state Supreme Court ruling on term limits in 2007. Though he’s been politically active behind the scenes in Louisiana’s capital city during the intervening years, he has not run for public office for more than a decade. Smith, on the other hand, has been front and center with teachers and others who opposed the most egregious of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reforms, earning her both statewide name recognition and respect.

Steve Carter (center). Credit: Sue Lincoln

Also in Baton Rouge, state Sen. Dan Claitor is done, and two term-limited Republican House members want to snag the 16th district seat. Rep. Steve Carter reliably supported education reforms, as chair of the House Education Committee during former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s second term. But during the past three years, Carter has pushed for a hike in the state gasoline tax, aimed at whittling away on the $14-billion backlog of unfunded and much-needed road and bridge repairs and construction.

The “no tax never” crowd at the extreme right of the state GOP prefer Rep. Franklin Foil for that seat. As vice-chairman of Cameron Henry’s House Appropriations Committee, Foil has proven to be (as the phrase goes) a “committed conservative.” In fact, Foil is running on a platform of “reducing the size of our government and state budget.”

Yet Foil and/or Carter have to come out on top of a field that includes another Republican, perennial unfunded candidate-for-something Bob Bell. Libertarian Everett Baudean is also on the ballot. And the crowded field of runners on the political right could open a passing lane for the lone female (and Democrat) in the race: Beverly Brooks Thompson.

Two Democrats and three Republicans want the 20th district Senate seat that Norby Chabert (R-Houma) has been filling for the past 12 years. Rep. Jerry “Truck” Gisclair (D-Larose), term-limited out of the House this cycle, will vie with former House member Damon Baldone (r-Houma) who was term-limited out of the lower chamber in 2012. A Democrat then and through the first half of 2017, Baldone changed parties two years ago to run for the

Public Service Commission post he’d been given an interim appointment to by Gov. John Bel Edwards. (Baldone lost that race, receiving just over 24% of the total vote.)

Also in the fais-do-do around the Senate seat are Republicans “Big Mike” Fesi, an oil-and-gas businessman, and Shane Swan, a 23-year-old African-American who lists his occupation on Facebook as “music producer.” Brenda Leroux Babin, a Democrat from Houma, and a former Terrebonne Parish School Board member, is on the ballot, as well.

Mark Abraham. Credit: Sue Lincolb

The contest for the district 25 seat being vacated by term-limited Blade Morrish (R-Jennings) will have current House members Mark Abraham (R- Lake Charles) and John E. Guinn (R- Jennings) going toe-to-toe. Guinn has reached the end of his eligibility to serve in the House, while Abraham is just now completing his first term. Meanwhile, a third Republican, rice farmer Kevin Berken of Lake Arthur, will be dancing around the two lawmakers, looking for his own opening to distract and defeat them.

A pair of term-limited House Democrats are looking to keep spending their springtimes in Baton Rouge, as Robert Johnson of Marksville and Harvey LeBas of Ville Platte are candidates for the district 28 seat Eric LaFleur is vacating. There’s a potential spoiler in the race, too – Republican Heather Cloud, mayor of the village of Turkey Creek. She came in eighth of the nine people in the Secretary of State special election primary last November.

The final contest falling into the category of senate attempted musical chairs is the district 30 seat. Leesville Republican John Smith is out, and Rep. James K. Armes, (D-Leesville) is done in the House. Armes wants the senate seat, as does former state Rep. Brett Geymann. The Lake Charles Republican finished his three full terms in the lower chamber at the last state election cycle, four years ago. Geymann will be splitting the base in the primary with two other GOP candidates: Renee Hoffpauir-Klann and Mike Reese, both from Leesville.

Newton’s 3rd Law

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

There has been a lot of posturing lately over what are sometimes termed “purity tests”, whether someone running for an office is “conservative” or “liberal” enough to satisfy the observer. If a candidate has voted the “wrong way” on a single bill – even though in all other policies that person aligns with the critic’s own views – that candidate isn’t whatever enough, and by God, we need somebody who is.

These Senate races appear to be manifesting some of those “opposite reactions.”

In New Orleans’ district 5, incumbent Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, the present chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, is being challenged by two Democrats: a black female named “Fox Rich” Richardson, and a white male, Allen Borne, Jr.

It’s hard to believe that someone might think Sen. Bodi White (R-Baton Rouge) isn’t far enough to the right wing, but he has attracted a Libertarian challenger, Rufus Craig. The Baton Rouge attorney has competed with White before, in the 2016 Baton Rouge mayor jungle primary. White made the runoff with 29% of the vote (but ultimately lost to Democrat and former state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome), while Craig only garnered 1% (2002 votes of the nearly 191,000 cast).

Cameron Henry. Credit: Sue Lincoln

State Sen. Conrad Appel should be pleased with the conservative credentials of at least one of the two candidates seeking to succeed him in district 9. Current House Appropriations chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) seems to have the inside track, after serving three terms in the lower chamber. Henry will face another Metairie Republican, Jon “Frankie” Hyers. Hyers is a novice, with no campaign website and no funding.

District 10 could be moving from tasty beverage to street food, as the best known candidate for the senate seat long held by Danny Martiny (R-Kenner) is Rep. Kirk Talbot (R-River Ridge). Talbot owns Lucky Dogs, the wiener-in-a-bun shaped rolling food carts purveying hot dogs on street corners in New Orleans’ French Quarter and Central Business District. Due to alphabetical order, Talbot is the last name on the ballot, following Arita Bohannon (a Native American female, Republican, from Kenner) and Skip Galan of Kenner, who declares himself as Hispanic, with no party affiliation.

Rep. Reid Falconer, just finishing up his initial term in the House, is one of those previously mentioned political philosophy purists, and he’s hoping to use his ultra-conservative credentials from the senate seat Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville) has filled for the past dozen years. Falconer (R-Madisonville) will vie with Daniel Ducote (R-Madisonville), who wants to abolish all income and sales taxes, and with Patrick McGrath (R-Covington).

In District 12, Sen. Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton), seeking her second term in the upper chamber, has drawn a Democratic male opponent, Daniel Fairburn of Kentwood.

Dale Erdey (R-Livingston) is done with his three terms in the upper chamber, and J. Rogers Pope (R-Denham Springs), who has completed his dozen years in the House, is looking to move into the district 13 Senate seat. Pope, who retired from a full career as a district schools’ superintendent before entering the Legislature, faces two Republican women who also want the Senate seat. Like Pope, Edith Carlin and Deven Cavalier also reside in Denham Springs.

Incumbent Sen. Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge) is running for her second Senate term, but she faces some “opposite reaction.” A certain segment of the community views some of her bills and votes as “too conservative” and “not Democratic enough.” Gary Chambers (D-Baton Rouge), an outspoken activist for civil rights and racial equity, is challenging Barrow, promising to focus on providing for the needs of district 15 residents.

Gerald Boudreaux (D-Lafayette) is running for his second Senate term in district 24. He’s being challenged by Corey Levier, a non-party candidate who is a post 9/11 combat veteran and runs a firearms business.

In district 26, incumbent Bob Hensgens (R- Gueydan) who moved from the House to the Senate in Nov. 2018, filling the seat vacated when former state Sen. Jonathan Perry elected to the bench, faces Jerry Gaspard (D-Abbeville). Gaspard was also on the Nov. 2018 ballot for this seat, garnering 18% of the total vote. (Hensgens got 60%.)

Jay Luneau (seated) testifies on auto insurance legislation. Credit: Sue Lincoln

This past spring, in the fourth year of his first term, district 29 Sen. Jay Luneau (D-Alexandria) helped expose the long-running scheme to blame high auto insurance rates on anything and everything but unfair rate-setting policies by the insurance industry. Luneau’s reward for unveiling the scam? He’s got an insurance agent, Randy Wiggins (R-Pineville), attempting to unseat him.

Outside the ordained clergy, it’s hard to find someone more overtly devout than Sen. Gerald Long (R-Winnfield). But with Long’s legislative retirement, voters in district 31 will need to sort through three men’s competing claims of deepest devotion to the most conservative of Republican causes. Louie Bernard of Natchitoches is running on his 24 years of public service as the former parish clerk of court. Also pointing to his service record is wounded-in-action former Marine sniper Douglas Brown of Cheneyville, who presently farms rice, soybeans and crawfish. There’s also Alexandria attorney Trey Flynn, who is running on a pro-life, pro-gun, pro-business, conservative family man platform..

Term limits on Neil Riser have opened the senate district 32 race to quite a mix of contenders, including Danny Cole (D-Jena) and Catahoula Parish Police Juror Judy Duhon (D-Olla). Retired Caldwell Parish Sheriff Steve May (R-Columbia) is also on the October 12 ballot, as is corporate construction contractor Glen Womack (R-Harrisonburg). (Can you say “erector Set”?)

Two Republicans are battling to take over the district 33 seat that has belonged to Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe) Wade Bishop, the former chairman of the West Monroe Chamber of Commerce will square off with Stewart Cathey, Jr. of Sterlington. Four years ago, Cathey lived in a different senate district, ran for that seat and lost to Jim Fannin..

That’s district 35, and incumbent Jim Fannin (R- Jonesboro) is facing two challengers this time. Rep. Jay Morris (R- Monroe) is undoubtedly going to be pushing the narrative that Fannin – who is conservative, but not averse to compromise – isn’t far enough to the right. Matt Parker (R- Calhoun), is an auto body shop owner and ran for state Insurance Commissioner in 2015. He got 14% of the vote.

Serving district 36, Sen. Ryan Gatti (R-Bossier) is seeking reelection to the seat he first won four years ago. He’s got competition from oil and gas man Robert Mills (R- Benton), who has said he’s running because “there’s a leadership void and a lack of urgency on the part of career politicians.” Mattie Preston (D- Minden), also known as “Apostle”, is a preacher and school bus driver that’s running, as well.

Barrow Peacock (R-Shreveport) is seeking his third and final term as district 37’s state senator. But he’s facing a loud and proud challenge from Shreveport independent Debbie Hollis. The progressive activist, nonprofit consultant and multimedia artist is running on an elegantly and simply stated platform: “Equal Rights for All.”

What can we say about district 38 incumbent Sen. John Milkovich (D-Keithville)? He’s been problematic for both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, much as – as a lawyer – he has been problematic for judges. so it’s not surprising that he has drawn challengers from both sides of the aisle. Banker Barry Milligan (R-Shreveport) and insurance agent Katrina Early (D-Shreveport) are each hoping to replace him.

Last, but far from least, district 39 incumbent Greg Tarver (D- Shreveport) has clearly rubbed a few people the wrong way. He’s being challenged by term-limited state Rep. Barbara Norton (D-Shreveport). Tarver is fighting back, challenging Norton’s candidacy in court, because – he alleges – she does not live in the district, with the address she gave at qualifying being the home of one of her relatives. Tarver is also questioning the residency of another challenger, attorney Shante’ Wells (D-Shreveport). No word yet on how Tarver is planning to neutralize the fourth candidate, Jim Slagle (R-Vivian), a certified public accountant.

So that’s an initial overview of Louisiana’s state Senate contests. And as we move closer to the October 12 jungle primary, with candidates’ messages becoming virtually inescapable, perhaps it’s will be time for all of us to think how to creatively apply the First Law of Thermodynamics to politics and government. It states:

“Energy can neither be created or destroyed, but it can be transferred from one form to another.”