Decision 2019: JMC’s guide to 2019 Legislative Elections in Louisiana

Louisiana is one of three states (Mississippi and Kentucky are the others) who have statewide elections this year. And while the Governor’s race will certainly be competitive (as evidenced by this recent JMC poll), races for the state legislature are a similarly important part of the political landscape.

Historically, Democratic dominance in Louisiana was exemplified by near unanimous representation in both legislative chambers. Part of their dominance, however, was due to Republicans’ only competing for a fraction of the seats – in 1991, they only contested 43% of legislative seats, and even then, they only won 35% of the seats they DID contest. That meant that Republicans only won 15% of legislative seats in 1991, and the partisan vote for House and Senate seats in the October 1991 primary was 75-23% for Democratic candidates.

That began to change in 1995: in addition to winning the Governorship, Republicans made a concerted effort to add to their membership in the Legislature, and met with some success. Still, in the October 1995 primary, the vote for legislative candidates was 68-30% for Democratic candidates.

The 1995 election cycle was an political inflection point for another reason: Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved a term limits amendment to the Constitution that limited legislators to 12 years’ service in each chamber starting with the 1995 election. So for those elected on or before the 1995 election, their tenure in that chamber would come to an end in 2007. However, since the limitation was for each chamber (as opposed to overall tenure), what happened was that a substantial number of term limited House members ran for the Senate in 2007.

Nevertheless, 2007 was a watershed year for Republicans because term limits immediately opened up the playing field in politically favorable areas, and not only did Republicans for the first time ever come to a near parity in both chambers, but the legislative partisan vote was a relatively narrower 55-43% Democratic. Republicans eventually (through both party switches after the 2010 election cycle and special election victories) gained numerical control of both chambers by 2011, and by the 2015 election cycle, the partisan legislative vote was 56-41% Republican. Going into the 2019 elections, the current partisan balance is 25-14 Republican in the Senate and 62-39 Republican (with 4 Independents) in the House.

What makes 2019 a significant election cycle is that the large freshman class elected in 2007 is now term limited. More specifically, 16 Senators (out of 39) and 31 Representatives (out of 105) are leaving their respective chambers. And if you also count (1) non term-limited House members running for the Senate, and (2) two known retirements (Democrat Terry Landry and Independent Terry Brown), there will actually be at least 40 new House members (there are no known Senate retirements at this time).

So what is likely to happen this year ? In the Senate, there are 16 term limited seats. While 12 of those are Republican held, they are generally in conservative areas: the aggregate vote in these 12 seats was 72-25% Trump and 56-44% for Vitter (in other words, a noticeably more conservative constituency). And if we limit our analysis of “gettable” seats to the ones being vacated, you have exactly one “gettable” seat for Republicans: the senate seat based in Avoyelles and Evangeline Parishes held by Eric Lafleur (D-Ville Platte), which voted 70-27% for Trump and 56-44% for John Bel Edwards.

There are more pickup opportunities for Republicans in the House. 31 of its seats are term limited, while another nine non term limited representatives are either retiring or running for the Senate. This group of 40 representatives consists of 21 Republicans, 17 Democrats, and 2 Independents, and it’s the political complexion of some of the 17 Democratic held seats (as well as the two vacated Independent held seats) that benefits House Republicans (the Republican held seats voted 73-23% for Trump and 58-42% for Vitter). While 11 of the 17 Democratic held seats are in solidly Democratic constituencies that gave Hillary Clinton 76% and John Bel Edwards 84% of the vote, the remaining eight Democratic/Independent seats are pickup possibilities for the Republicans, as they collectively voted 74-25% for Donald Trump and 50.2% for David Vitter.

In conclusion, the political complexion of the legislative districts impacted by term limits (especially in the House) benefits Republicans, but candidate quality and adequate funding will also play a major role in determining which candidates are/are not viable.