By Jeremy Alford & Mitch Rabalais
In what is snowballing into a legislative record of sorts, both chambers of the Louisiana Legislature have so far concluded 10 special elections, including a single-candidate House race from last week’s qualifying period.
Special elections are called during a term of the Legislature when a lawmaker creates a vacancy, either through retiring, stepping down, moving to another elected office or other means.
In House District 10, in the Minden area, a special election was called for the November ballot, but last week Rep.-elect Wayne McMahen became the only the candidate to qualify for the post.
Another two special legislative elections in the cities of Slidell and Sulphur will have wait for the fall ballot and one more needs to be called due to Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan, becoming the lone candidate last week for a seat on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal.
Moreover, there could be up to six more special elections required this term, depending on the fates of various candidacies.
With senators and representatives haggling over impossible budget issues in seemingly endless special sessions, lawmakers are heading to the exits as quickly as they can. The House in particular has experienced record-breaking turnover, losing seven members this term alone.
As such, there are seven members of the lower chamber running for new jobs on the fall ballot:
— Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, is in the contest for secretary of state.
— Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, is too.
— Rep. Chris Hazel, R-Pineville, is running for a judgeship in the 9th Judicial District.
— Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe, is campaigning for a gavel in the 4th Judicial District.
— Rep. Jeff Hall, D-Alexandria, is also trying to get the top job in Alexandria City Hall, for the second time, but this go around without interference from longtime Mayor Jacques Roy, who is stepping aside.
— Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, is eyeing Pointe Coupee Parish president.
— Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisvulle, has his sights set on West Feliciana Parish president.
Political History: Louisiana’s first congresswoman
On October 16, 1972, then-U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs disappeared.
The Louisiana congressman had been campaigning for a colleague’s re-election in Alaska when his plane went missing. Military efforts to find the aircraft were unsuccessful after a 39-day search.
While the search had been ongoing, voters in Boggs’ New Orleans-based district still overwhelmingly re-elected him posthumously. This triggered a special election, although a waiting period had to be observed until the congressman was declared legally dead.
When the qualifying to succeed Boggs opened up, his wife Lindy Boggs jumped into the race with the full support of the Louisiana Democratic Party establishment. Having a deceased member’s wife fill a seat had been a common practice for decades. For instance, Rose McConnell Long filled out the rest of the Kingfish’s term in the U.S. Senate after his assassination in 1935.
Lindy Boggs, however, was a political player in her own right and made it clear that she would not be a mere stand-in. Over the course of her marriage, Lindy had personally run Hale’s campaigns and managed his office. She had also chaired the inaugural committees for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, campaigned for Democratic candidates around the country, and led the Democratic Wives’ Forum and the Women’s National Democratic Club.
“She’s the only widow I know who is really qualified — damn qualified — to take over,” said then-Congressman F. Edward Hebert, who chaired the Armed Services Committee at the time.
In the special election, Lindy Boggs early defeated her opposition by a 4-1 margin. Her victory marked the first time that Louisiana voters had ever elected a woman to Congress.
Upon her arrival in the lower chamber, Boggs was assigned a seat on the the House Banking and Currency Committee. According to her memoir, Washington Through a Purple Veil, she had found it difficult to do business with banks as a newly single woman, and was unable to get a loan or credit card. As a member of the committee governing financial regulations, she set out to change this.
When a bill came before the committee that prohibited banks from discriminating against customers based off of age or race, Boggs attached an amendment. Denying credit on the basis “sex or marital status” would be outlawed. The bill passed overwhelmingly, and women were able to take out loans, mortgages and credit cards in their own names — for the first time in American history.
“It wasn’t that it was Lindy Boggs making the difference,” she later recalled. “It was the fact that there was a woman at the right place at the right time to make a difference.”
Getting to know the candidates
After last week’s qualifying period, there are 183 people now qualified as candidates in major statewide, regional and multi-parish races, not including local-level offices such as school boards. The tally breaks down as follows:
— 134 candidates are men
— 49 candidates are women
— 137 are white candidates
— 42 are black candidates
— One is classified as “other”
— 70 are Republicans
— 72 are Democrats
— 19 are “no party” qualifiers
— 18 are Independents
They Said It
“It is ‘Geaux Tigers’ 24/7 with Coach O.”
—Gov. John Bel Edwards, on his friendship with LSU football coach Ed Orgeron, on his “Ask the Governor” radio show
“It’s been my experience in politics that you can try and plan it out: ‘I’m going to hit the three ball which will hit the eight ball…’ You’ve just got to go run and try to do everything right. And then have a little luck.”
—U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, on running for governor, in POLITICO