Too old to serve? New law kicks several longtime public officials out of office
Milton Cambre, 79, served six terms as constable in St. Charles Parish but is prevented from running for the position again due to his age.
A little know law was passed in 2006 that disallows anyone over the age of 70 from running for justice of the peace or constable.
Although that law has been in place for the past eight years, a clause allowed those who were already elected to serve as long as they continued to be reelected. However, that clause was eliminated on Aug. 1 due to an amendment sponsored by Sen. Elbert Guillory, of Opelousas, who himself just turned 70 in June.
The amendment affects 189 elected officials statewide.Due to Guillory’s amendment, when voters go the voting booth this November some familiar names who have served the parish for numerous years will be missing. District 6 Constable Milton Cambre, District 2 Justice of the Peace Earl “Pie” Tastet and District 3 Justice of the Peace Henry Miller have all been disallowed from seeking reelection due to Guilory’s amendment.
While constables and justices of the peace, who are elected to six-year terms, are the not the most high-profile elected officials, they provide necessary assistance in governmental matters. Justices of the peace handle evictions, small claims litigation issues not exceeding $5,000, perform marriage ceremonies and can facilitate wage garnishments.
Constables serve citations ordered by the justice of the peace courts and act as the enforcement officer of evictions.
Cambre, 79, has served six terms as a constable in St. Charles Parish for a total of 36 years and currently makes about $600 per month for his duties. Although he was not planning on running again this year, he said not being allowed to run is upsetting to him.
“Certainly 10 years ago I shouldn’t have been disallowed from running. It seems like it is age discrimination, that is what it boils down to,” he said.
Tastet, 77, has been justice of the peace for the past 25 years and is paid around $500 a month. Tastet was planning on running again this year and does not understand why he is barred from pursuing elected office if he is still able to perform the job.
“I am 77 and I feel OK. I am keeping busy,” he said.
According to Tastet, the most disturbing aspect of the new law is that it is not being applied to all elected officials.
“I think if they are going to do it, they do it statewide from the governor on down. Why just pick on the justices of the peace and the constables? That is why I am upset about it,” he said.
Both Cambre and Tastet said that they were not notified that the legislation was pending and were not aware of it until it passed.
“It just came out of the blue and in the last days of the session, which left a lot to be desired,” Cambre said.
The two have since received letters from Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell who said he was also unaware of the legislation until it had already been passed.
Caldwell told them that if he would have known about it, his office would have fought against the amendment. Earlier this week Caldwell held a meeting with the affected justices of the peace and constables throughout the state to discuss the legality of the new law and potential challenges to it.
A lawsuit has also reportedly been filed in the 27th Judicial District Court in Opelousas in an attempt to overturn the law, but for at least the upcoming election it appears public servants such as Cambre, Tastet and Miller will be left out in the cold.
Hahnville-resident Henry Wolfe, 73, had already prepared a statement to announce his candidacy for the District 1 Justice of the Peace race when qualifying opened on Wednesday, Aug. 13, but found last week that he was too old to run.
“I think it is unconstitutional and certainly discriminatory,” he said. “I wish I could file a lawsuit, but I don’t have the means to do so.”
Wolfe said the fact that Guillory is a 70-year-old elected official who passed such a law that affects other elected officials of the same age is the height of hypocrisy.
“It is disappointing. I wonder if Mr. Guillory, since he is over 70, will be asking people not to vote for him,” he said.
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