Louisiana’s Senate-to-House phenomenon

By Jeremy Alford, Sarah Gamard & Mitch Rabalais

LaPolitics.com

State Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-Monroe, may make a run for the House in 2019, and he joins three other senators who are eyeing a political downgrade to the lower chamber.

Also looking to make a bid for the House next term are Sens. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, and Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, who have all but officially announced for House Districts 20 and 19, respectively.

Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, has expressed interested in House District 83, but friends suggest that he seems to be leaning against returning to his old seat.

While going from an elected body of 39 to one with 105 members might seem like a step down, the practice has become more common in Louisiana since 2007, when term limits took full effect in Louisiana.

The first lawmaker to accomplish the post-term limits feat was Noble Ellington, who was elected to the House as a Democrat in the late 1980s before moving to the Senate to face term limits. That prompted another run for the House, where his party switch to GOP helped the Republican Party capture a 53rd vote and a controlling majority.

Ellington, who now works in legislative affairs for Gov. John Bel Edwards, said the biggest differences between upper and lower were found in the numbers (39 versus 105) and the perks.

“You have an office,” he said of the Senate. “In the House, if you’re not a chairman, you don’t even have an office. Your desk is an office… (Senate staff) makes your job a little bit easier. In the House, all the studying and understanding of the bills falls on you.”

As for the numbers, Ellington was also confronted with 60 brand new representatives, few of which knew the inside jokes and departed personalities of Ellington’s original class.

He recalled, “Because I went from the Senate back to the House, a lot of the new people who came in said, ‘What’s this old sucker doing back over here? We thought term limits were supposed to take care of the likes of him.’ I just didn’t want them to think I was part of the establishment that was bad. I think I succeeded.”

In 2011, after being turned back for speaker pro tem due to his more recent Senate roots and following his inability to grasp a chairman’s gavel, Ellington decided not to seek re-election.

“I just had enough,” he said before reflecting on legislative life prior to term limits. “The relationships were much better. There was a lot of camaraderie and friendship.”

In a recent interview, he predicted that others will soon be following in his footsteps.

“I think you’re going to see it again,” Ellington said of the rep-turned-senator-turned-rep species.

Secretary of state race still evolving

Pointing to a move that would change the dynamics of the developing race for secretary of state, Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D- New Orleans, told LaPolitics of his own potential candidacy, “It seems like the timing may be right.”

Leger was heavily encouraged by his core donors to run for New Orleans mayor last year, but he opted against it — and now many of those same supporters are telling him to stand his ground for a statewide job that, by comparison, may better highlight his political strengths.

Open statewide posts don’t come along too often, which explains the ballooning field that not only includes Leger, but also former state Sen. A.G. Crowe of Pearl River, who had planned to go into the field with a poll last week.

There have likewise been whispers about former Jefferson Parish President John Young and Reneé Free, the director of the attorney general’s public protection division.

These developments are probably least welcomed by state Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, who last week became the first candidate to officially announce for the race. She is considered an early favorite due to her $184,000 in cash on hand, her ability to capture crossover voters and her GOP-heavy base of support in Jefferson Parish.

Building an unexpected amount of momentum is state Rep. Rick Edmonds of Baton Rouge, who has supposedly had some high-level meetings lately and is well known among the state’s pastors.

During interviews with LaPolitics, Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, said he hasn’t ruled out the race and state Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, is on the same page.

Others expressing interest include Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud; state Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville; state Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield; Lake Charles attorney Michael McHale; state Rep. Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs; state Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco; and LSU Board of Supervisors Member Mary Leach Werner.

Political History:
Huey’s“Bloody Monday” adjournment

By late March of 1929, then-Gov. Huey P. Long had a serious problem.

The Kingfish had just called the Legislature into a special session to consider a new tax on oil and gas to pay for some of his ambitious projects. Despite warnings from his floor leaders, Long pushed forward with his package of bills, which met stiff opposition from lawmakers amid intense lobbying from the Standard Oil Company.

Fed up with Long’s domineering and bullying behavior, a group of lawmakers led by Shreveport Rep. Cecil Morgan hatched a plan to bring impeachment charges against the governor. Meanwhile, a rumor circulated around the Capitol that Long had instructed one of his bodyguards to assassinate Rep. J.Y. Sanders, Jr., his nemesis in the lower chamber.

Morgan had Huey’s bodyguard swear an affidavit while he prepared to bring the charges before the House when it convened that Monday. Gov. Long, having caught wind of the plot, called a meeting of his legislative leaders and instructed House Speaker John Fournet to adjourn sine die as soon as possible.

When the House convened on Monday evening, Fournet ignored Morgan’s attempt to rise on personal privilege, instead recognizing a pro-Long lawmaker that moved to adjourn early.

Morgan protested and started shouting his prepared remarks. The speaker instructed the sergeants-at-arms to remove Morgan, but they were physically blocked by his allied colleagues.

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