Decision 2015: JMCEL’s “bite sized politics” (Senate District 12)

INCUMBENT: Ben Nevers (Democrat)

DESCRIPTION: Senate District 12 is located in the Florida Parishes and contains all of Washington Parish, Saint Tammany Parish north of Abita Springs, and most of Tangipahoa Parish north of US Highway 190.


District Map

District Map









RED/BLUE RATING (using 2008, 2012, and 2014 elections): 63% Republican

JMCEL’s SUMMARY: The 1995 elections brought a noticeable Republican presence to the Louisiana Senate for the first time as several long-time Democratic incumbents were defeated by their Republican challengers. District 12 was one of those districts that contributed to the GOP “surge.”

District 12 itself is illustratitive of the changing politics and dempographics of the Florida Parishes. Decades ago, it contained all of Washington and Saint Tammany parishes, but the continued explosive growth in Saint Tammany has caused the district lines to steadily move north after each reapportionment session. However, the district has also included various configurations of Tangipahoa and Saint Helena Parishes over the years (Saint Helena is currently not in the district), and while suburbanization has impacted areas of Tangipahoa Parish in and around the exurb of Hammond, most of the district is still rural in character.

This political tension between suburban voters (who have voted heavily Republican) and rural residents (who were traditional “solid south Democrats”) has led to some competitive politics here. At the top of the ballot, Republicans almost always carry the district (although it voted 53-47% for Kathleen Blanco in her 2003 race against “Bobby” Jindal), while at the legislative level, Democrats have exhibited some residual strength, because a 51% majority can be constructed from the 25% black voter registration and the rural voters in Washington and northern Tangipahoa Parishes.

The 1995 defeat of long time (he was a Senator from 1951 to 1996) Democratic senator B.B. “Sixty” Rayburn was noteworthy, because the changing dempograhics of the district had never before impacted his re-election margins. His successor (Phil Short) didn’t serve long, however, and he resigned his position in 1999 to take a job with the Marines in Washington. His successor was state representative Jerry Thomas, who switched to the Republican Party to make the race, but only served for five years – he chose not to run for re-election in 2003 after an incident in 2002 where he was arrested for engaging in lewd conduct during a police raid at an adult bookstore in New Orleans. In the open seat race to succeed him, then representative Ben Nevers (who succeeded Thomas in the House) was elected in the primary when his Republican runoff opponent witdrew after getting 21% of the vote (Nevers received 43% in the first primary).

Even though Senator Nevers was unopposed in 2007, the Republicans seriously contested this seat in 2011, and Nevers only was re-elected with 51% of the vote. While he carried Tangipahoa with 54% and Washington with 56%, the 68% his Republican opponent got in Saint Tammany was why Senator Nevers was nearly defeated. Senator Nevers is term limited, and this race is high on the list of GOP pickup opportunities (Mitt Romney received 66% of the district vote, and 62% voted for Bill Cassidy). It’ll be interesting to see whether Democrats fight to hold onto this seat.