Alford: Special elections join special sessions at Capitol 


The end of the regular session, a conclusion slated for less than two weeks from now, will not close the door on legislative politics for this calendar year. There’s more (much more) politics to come, and rather soon.

As lawmakers are making plans for their first special session of the year—it will likely convene almost immediately upon the regular session’s adjournment—qualifying is also kicking off for the first special legislative election of 2020 in the Terrebonne-Lafourche region. Plus, another special legislative election may be on tap in Calcasieu Parish during the fall or winter, and that race, in particular, could have serious ramifications at the Capitol.

Even those who track legislative races were surprised this week when they realized that qualifying for the special election in the Terrebonne-Lafourche region was commencing. It will run from May 20 to May 22. 

That’s the race to replace state Rep. Reggie Bagala in House District 54. The late Republican died from COVID-19. The special election is set for July 11, alongside the presidential preference primary, and it will be the first special legislative election of the current term.

Jimmy Cantrelle, the son of the former Lafourche Parish president by the same name, is said to be looking at the race. So are Joseph A. Orgeron, an adjunct professor at Nicholls State University and a businessman with a foot in wind energy, and Phil Gilligan, a boat asset appraiser. Bagala won 58 percent of the vote last fall against fellow Republicans Donny Lerille (26 percent) and Ernest Boudreaux (16 percent).

State Rep. Stephen Dwight, a Republican from Lake Charles, confirmed last week that he intends to run for district attorney in the 14th Judicial District on the Nov. 3 ballot. Back home, Dwight is the heavy favorite, according to local politicos, which would set up an entirely different set of dominoes in the state House.

Dwight, as chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, is positioned to lead next year’s decennial redistricting process, when election lines will be redrawn based on U.S. census findings. If he’s elected district attorney, not only will the House need another special election (possibly the second of the year), but the body will also require another chairman for what is arguably the most critical task of the term. 

District Attorney John DeRosier recently announced his retirement to voters, saying in a prepared statement that “this worldwide pandemic has caused me to take stock of what’s really important in life.” When DeRosier last appeared on a ballot in 2016, he defeated fellow Republican Christian D. Chesson with 57% of the vote.

Should there be a special election in House District 35 later this year, former Rep. Brett Geymann has already indicated he would be interested and is working with consultant Lionel Rainey.

Not to be outdone on the specialness front, the entire Legislature is also staring down the barrel of a special session. Charged with advising the House and Senate on policy avenues to lead the state out of pandemic mode, the Louisiana Legislative Advisory Task Force on Economic Recovery is expected to start spitting out ideas this week for the forthcoming special session agenda. 

While the announcement of those ideas is imminent, it’s still unknown whether the Legislature will need one or two special sessions this calendar year. The budget is unlikely to pass before the regular session ends June 1, and the completion of that spending plan will most certainly require a special session. But the economic development issues being tackled by the task force may or may not need an additional special session as well.

There are a variety of economic development needs that could make it on a call, including topics related to sales taxes and property taxes, especially with 2020 being a reassessment year. Income taxes may be on the agenda, too, according to sources—particularly with Congress considering tax provisions in the latest version of the CARES Act. For the state to take full advantage of those assumed changes, alterations will have to be made in the Legislature as well. 

Needless to say, these are indeed special times for those plying trades inside Capitoland. Whether everyone still feels special when it’s all said and done is an entirely different question.

Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, atLaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com