Faces changing in Louisiana Legislature

• Baton Rouge

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

Sixteen of the 39 members of the Louisiana Senate face the loss of the title of Senator at the end of their current four-year terms this year, due to Constitutionally-mandated 12-year term limits. Several have announced intentions to seek other positions in the October 2007 elections, to remain active in State government.

James David Cain, term limited in the Senate, is running for his old House of Representative seat in Vernon/Beauregard parishes.

Another North Louisiana Senator, Noble Ellington, also term limited, is running for the House Seat in his Winnsboro home area.

Two senators with over 30 years of legislative experience are being retired, plus three other with over 20 years of service.

On the House side of the Legislature, 44 out of the 103 members are being retired by term limits. Four of those members are leaving after 30-plus years in Baton Rouge. Another 10 Representatives are leaving after more than 20 years of service.

On the Senate side, it seems that north and central Louisiana will be losing the majority of term limited Senators. The opposite appears true on the House side. The southeast Louisiana metro areas are leading the exodus of term limited House members. The I-10 corridor is also being hard hit by term limits in the House.

The long-serving State Senators in addition to Cain and Ellington are Francis Heitmeier, Ken Hollis, Charles Jones, and Chris Ullo. Retiring after more than 30 years in the House are John Alario, Donald Ray Kennard, Charles Lanacaster, and Francis Thompson. Only Thompson is from North Louisiana.

The term limit law in Louisiana limits politicians to serving a maximum of three consecutive terms in office. In the House, 25 of the retiring members have served more than three consecutive terms. On the Senate side, a total of eight members have served over the three consecutive term limit, since members in office when term limits were adopted were exempt from their prior service.

Central and North Louisiana are also losing two other Representatives. Taylor Townsend of Natchitoches is campaigning to move up to the Senate in District 31, where he is facing Gerald Long, a Winnfield native, for that seat. From all reports, Monica Walker of Bunkie is not seeking re-election.

Among the term limited legislators are the current Speaker of the House, Joe Salter of Florien and Dr. Donald Hines, the President of the Senate.

What does term limits really mean to Louisiana? Will it work as the originators of term limits planned to really produce better government? For sure, 62 elected officials will be without jobs or in different jobs in Baton Rouge.

Some 21st century politicians have already left the Capitol for other jobs back in their home areas such as Donald Cravens, long-time Senator from Opelousas who was elected Mayor of Opelousas two years ago. He was succeeded in his Senate seat by his son, Donald Cravens, Jr. who had served the Opelousas area as State Representative prior to his elevation to Senator.

Many opponents of term limits point to the loss of experience in the legislature as a results of terms limits. According to the opposition, this can produce a lower quality of legislative action.

Experience in Baton Rouge is apparently a two-way street. It definitely takes time to find the best places to eat and reside in Baton Rouge and the shortest route to and from Baton Rouge back to the home district. However, the originators of term limits plan probably had more in mind the "experience factor" of lobbyists and special interest groups.

It will be a daunting task for the legislative lobbyists and special interest groups to learn the whims and mindset of so many new legislators at one time.

In the U.S. Congress, when a member retires or is retired, they frequently qualify for a seven-figure annual income as a lobbyist. That is not quite the case in Baton Rouge.

One thing for sure in the House and Senate leadership is that change is in the air. A new Governor will be in office by the time a new legislative session begins next year, unless the rumor of a special session in the summer or fall of 2007 is true. The Governor typically selects the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate who then dole out the Committee assignments.

A real "Catch 22" scenario could quickly develop for the class of 2008 legislators if former six-term State Senator Foster Campbell and current Public Service Commissioner is elected Governor. As his first order of business, Campbell has stated that he will call a special session of the legislature to deal with only one subject, a processing fee on foreign oil being processed in Louisiana.

No severance tax is paid in the processing of foreign oil in Louisiana although a 12.5% severance tax is paid on all oil produced in Louisiana.

Under Campbell's plan, the legislative class of 2008 would have to vote on whether to allow the people of Louisiana to vote on this oil processing fee since it would be in the form of a constitutional amendment. Having to vote yes or no on whether the people of the state deserve an opportunity to vote on such a plan as Campbell's oil processing fee could certainly place a lot of the new legislators between a rock and a hard spot.

From political talk around Baton Rouge, the legislator who appears most likely to benefit from term limits is Rep. Jim Fannin of Jonesboro.

Fannin has been very assertive in recent legislative sessions, recently heading the Rural Caucus in the House, and will most likely quickly move up the leadership ladder in the 2008 session.

The other North Louisiana legislator who could benefit, if the right person is elected Governor is Noble Ellington, assuming he wins his race for State Representative. If the right person for Ellington is elected Governor, Ellington would most probably become the Speaker of the House in 2008.