Much like the state its members represent, the Louisiana Legislature is experiencing a troubling trend of outmigration. Last term, from 2016 through 2019, was a doozy. Lawmakers quit their elected jobs in the middle of their terms at an alarming rate, setting what remains a modern record for resignations.
That forced state officials to call 22 special elections last term, an average of 5.5 taxpayer-funded contests per year. Typically lawmakers are elected in four-year cycles, but that pattern was interrupted by representatives and senators who believed the grass is greener elsewhere.
This term of state government kicked off in January 2020 with no signs of improvement. We’re 18 months into the current term and already there have been five special legislative elections called and another two are expected in the coming weeks. That puts the sitting Legislature on pace to keep track with the record-setting turnover from last term.
These resignations have been marked by complaints and frustration over the partisan nature of the Capitol. Lawmakers contend the job isn’t what it used to be, and that everyone from special interests to rank-and-file voters have become hypercritical. Other elected jobs suddenly seem more attractive. Jobs and families back home suddenly need more attention.
This trend of displeasure followed by political action is not only limited to special elections. For the first time in more than a decade, the Legislature is playing host to a major party switch. Rep. Malinda White of Bogalusa announced last week that she has removed herself from the Louisiana Democratic Party and no longer has any party affiliation. The news took many politicos by surprise. “I don’t vote by party. I never have,” White said in an interview. “We’re bogged down with party politics in the swamp. I’m done with that.”
How White makes her no-party status work in a building that is driven by party politics remains to be seen. But there is hope for a bit of crossover. This past session Rep. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, worked with the Republican Legislative Delegation on budget issues. Additionally, the House had two Independents—Reps. Roy Daryl Adams and Joe Marino—before White’s switch.
For now, however, the House and Senate have to worry about keeping their seats occupied. After calling four special elections to replace members this term, legislative leaders are keeping tabs on three other seats, including:
• House District 102, which officially became vacant last week with the swearing-in of Sen. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, who won an election to replace his uncle, freshman U.S. Rep. Troy Carter. More than likely that special House election to fill Gary Carter’s former job will be added to the October ballot.
• Senate District 27, which will become an open seat soon if Gov. John Bel Edwards appoints Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, to the Gaming Control Board.
• House District 16, where freshman Rep. Fred Jones, D-Bastrop, is already trying to move on. Jones announced last week that he’s running for district judge in the fall.
With a controversial redistricting session slated for early 2022 and some tough financial decisions coming in future regular sessions, don’t be surprised when a few other lawmakers start looking for exits.