If you want to be a state representative or senator when you grow up, or at least by the time the next term commences, then your next shot will likely be in 2019. So far we’ve already seen seven special legislative elections conducted since this Legislature was seated on Jan. 11, 2016.
Between then and now we’ve bid farewell to Sen. Troy Brown, who resigned, and adieu to Reps. Bryan Adams, Mike Johnson, Joe Lopinto, Jack Montoucet, Ed Price and Tom Wilmott, who sought different elected or appointed jobs. Another special election will be concluded this weekend when voters in St. Tammany Parish select a successor to former Rep. John Schroder.
And yet another will eventually be needed to replace Rep. Helena Moreno, who will become a member of the New Orleans City Council in 2018. The angling and positioning adds up to nine special elections, or eight from the House and one from the Senate. Nine is a hefty count for a term that hasn’t even passed its midway point, although that does happen at the end of this calendar year. The Louisiana Legislature may be on pace to force more special elections than any other in recent memory. Which is fitting. This is the same Legislature that made history last year by working more consecutive days in session than any other since 1812.
According to House Clerk Butch Speer there were just seven special elections in the lower chamber during the most recently completed term, which the ongoing 2016-2020 term has already matched and, come this weekend, will exceed. The modern high-water mark came during the 2000-2004 term, when there were 14 special elections. It’s completely possible that the Legislature will reach that threshold again, and Speer has already publicly predicted that the turnover count “could get worse.” Prior to term limits, Speer said the statehouse had “remarkably few” special elections. “We’ve been losing people hand over fist ever since,” Speer said in an interview with Sarah Gamard of LaPolitics.com, later adding,“If they didn’t like being here, they just didn’t run for election next time they came up. There was no benefit to quitting in the middle.” This term has only seen one special election out of the Senate, which is a body that few members ever truly want to leave. The next one to try could be term-limited Sen. Mike Walsworth, who has expressed interest in running for mayor of West Monroe in March. But aside from that scenario, Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp said he doesn’t expect any other surprises for the upper chamber over the next couple of years. In the House, Rep. Mike Danahay is running for mayor of Sulphur in March and Rep.
Greg Cromer wants the same gig in Slidell. There are actually a few mayoral slots in play next year, which could entice a sprinkling of other lawmakers to jump off of the bench. But if Walsworth, Danahay and Cromer are successful in their mayoral bids, that would in turn force another three special legislative elections over the next five months. And the trend is unlikely to end there. Some lawmakers are eyeing judgeships and local elected jobs. Others are tracking positions in state government. A few are simply yearning for a clean exit from politics. Moreover, from a national perspective, Louisiana is not alone when it comes to this midterm turnover trend.
The Florida Legislature, for example, is bracing for its seventh special legislative election this term. Mississippi hosted three of its own last week, contributing to the growing list of about 40 that have been conducted across the country in 2017, according to Rasmussen Reports. In the Bayou State, our special elections have come and gone with just whimpers of participation. Of the 10 special legislative elections (primaries and runoffs) that had been concluded as of Nov. 13, turnout ranged from 9.5 percent on the low end to as high as 28.6 percent. Combined, they sadly produced an average turnout of about 19 percent. A few of these special elections were rather light on competition as well. Two true freshmen, Reps. Joe Marino and Polly Thomas, were elected without opposition last year and another special election for Crowley’s House seat drew just two contenders this past spring. Most of the other unscheduled elections for the Legislature this term have generated packed fields. Term limits have certainly changed the way lawmakers view their time at the Capitol. The job has gone from a being potential lifetime occupation to a passthrough opportunity for some.
Additionally, the hectic rhythm, partisan bickering and gridlock-induced frustration have pushed others to seek employment elsewhere. In other words, job satisfaction is down for those living life inside the rails of the House and Senate. When you look at the midterm turnover trend in this way, through the lens of low morale and political posturing, you start to wonder if there’s really anything special about these elections. We may be better off referring to them as “unexpected elections” in the future.