“Politics Never Sleeps” in Louisiana

Since the November elections, the biggest political news in Louisiana has been the party switching of five legislators (three from the state House and two from the state Senate) to the Republican party. These switches have given the Republicans, for the first time since Reconstruction, a numerical majority in the state House, and they are within striking distance of having a numerical majority in the state Senate (they only trail 18-19, with two vacancies).

In addition to the party switches, there have recently been three legislative vacancies (two in the Senate and one in the House), and special elections have been called to fill these seats. We would like to discuss these vacancies from a political/electoral standpoint, especially since Republican victories in both open senate seats would give the Republicans a 20 seat majority in that legislative chamber. For all three races, the victor will not be subject to term limits until 2023.

House District 101

This heavily Democratic district (only once in the last 6 major elections has a Republican received more than 10% of the vote) is in New Orleans East and was represented by Cedric Richmond for over a decade until he was elected to the U.S House in November. Four Democrats qualified to run for this open seat. The primary will be held on Saturday, January 22. If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held on Saturday, February 19.

Whoever wins this seat will have little time to savor the victory; the victor will have to run again for this seat next fall during the regularly scheduled statewide/legislative elections. Furthermore, the 2011 election will be held under new district lines. There is some question as to whether this district will even exist next fall, since the heavy population losses in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will require major adjustments to House and Senate districts in Orleans Parish.  Though we do not yet have 2010 Census data, we know that, so far, this district has lost 18% of its registered voters since Hurricane Katrina (statewide, the count of registered voters has increased 4% during that same time period).

Senate District 22

While the House race mentioned above will not affect the partisan composition of the House, the two Senate vacancies have the potential of changing the partisan composition of the state Senate. 

Senate District 22 is located in “sugar cane country” of Iberia and St Martin Parishes, although there has been some recent suburbanization from Lafayette. While the district leans Republican, it is best to describe this 31% black (by voter registration) district as a swing district which not only tends to vote for the winner of statewide elections, but the district results tend to be very close to the statewide average. The incumbent, Troy Hebert, represented part of the district in the state House for 12 years before his promotion to the state Senate in 2007. Initially elected as a Democrat, he later switched to Independent and vacated the seat recently to take a position over at Alcohol and Tobacco Control.

In the wake of Senator Hebert’s resignation, six candidates (four Republicans and two Independents) have qualified to run. The two front runners (Simone Champagne and Fred Mills) are state representatives and recent GOP converts from opposite ends of the district. Though the fact that 58% of the district voters are from Iberia Parish would tend to favor Rep. Champagne, four of her five opponents are also from Iberia Parish. The primary, like the House race mentioned above, will be held on Saturday, January 22, with a runoff, if necessary, on Saturday, February 19.

Senate District 26

Senate District 26 is located in southwest Louisiana and contains all of Vermillion Parish and parts of Acadia, Lafayette, and St Landry Parishes. Though it would seem that this is a rural district, suburbanization in Lafayette and northern Vermillion Parishes has contributed to a recent Republican trend in the district to the point that it consistently supports Republicans in recent elections; the last Democrats to carry the district were Kathleen Blanco (2003 Governor’s race) and Chris John (2004 Senate race). The Republican tendencies are also strengthened by the fact that there is a relatively low (16%) percentage of black voters in the district.

The incumbent, Nick Gautreaux, has represented the area since 2003, and recently resigned to become commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles. Though a Democrat, he once proposed legislation to eliminate the state income tax.

Since filing for this seat isn’t until January 12-14 (the primary will be February 19), there is not yet much to say about the race, other than the fact that two House freshmen, Jonathan Perry (R-Abbeville) and Jack Montoucet (D-Scott), have been mentioned as potential candidates – Rep. Perry, in fact, quickly threw his hat into the ring. Rep. Perry initially benefits from the district’s Republican trend, as well as the fact that 47% of the vote will be cast in Vermillion Parish, with another 23% of the vote coming from the increasingly suburban Lafayette Parish precincts.

We will provide more updates on these three races as they unfold in coming weeks.