Thursday, July 25, 2024

LaRose: 10 Louisiana Legislature races to watch in this fall’s election

by BIZ Magazine

With almost half of the members of the state Senate and House of Representatives going unopposed, there might not appear to be much drama in store in the fall elections for seats in the Louisiana Legislature. But dig deeper and you’ll find a fight for the fundamental heart of the Republican-dominated chambers, along with a few intriguing races on the Democrats’ side.

Here are 10 races we’re watching. They include some that could go a long way in determining the next iteration of legislative leadership.

Senate District 1: Reps. Ray Garofalo, R-Violet, and Bob Owen, R-Slidell, face off to replace Sen. Sharon Hewitt. R-Slidell, in a district that stretches from east St. Tammany down to St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. 

Garofalo hit his term limit in the House, while Owen is attempting to reach the Senate after one term in the lower chamber. Owen’s House district is more condensed than Garofalo’s, which spans the lower Mississippi River below New Orleans.

Both lawmakers have a strong conservative streak, and it will be worth watching to see whether Owen brings up Garofalo’s removal as House Education Committee chairman. During a 2021 committee discussion, Garofalo noted “the good, the bad, the ugly” about slavery in arguing for his bill that would have prohibited K-12 students from learning about institutional racism.

Senate District 6: Reps. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, and Barry Ivey, R-Central, meet to replace term-limited Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, who leaves as one of the more powerful members in his role as Senate Finance Committee chairman.

Ivey was a thorn in the side of fellow House Republicans on redistricting but otherwise was a consistent vote for the majority party. We’ll see if Edmonds turns that into campaign fodder.

Senate District 8: This contest features a showdown between Jefferson Parish family political dynasties, with incumbent Sen. Patrick Connick, R-Harvey, facing a challenge from Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner Jr.. 

The younger Kerner hopes to join his father, Rep. Tim Kerner Sr., in the legislature after the elder was unopposed in House District 84. Tim Sr. served as Lafitte mayor for seven terms. Father and son have been vocal about what they feel is the short shrift their town gets in the bigger West Jefferson picture, especially as it involves storm protection.

Connick, whose older brother is Jefferson District Attorney Paul Connick, is seeking a second term in the Senate, where he won a seat after representing House District 84 for 12 years.

Greg LaRose

Senate District 13: Reps. Valarie Hodges and Buddy Mincey square off in a battle of Denham Springs Republicans seeking to replace term-limited Sen. J. Rogers Pope. 

The stage was set for this matchup when lawmakers had to vote to remove a spending cap in order to approve a budget that tapped into historically unprecedented revenue. Hodges was among the 19 “fiscal hawks” in the House that wanted to devote the money to paying off state retirement system debt early and filling savings accounts. Mincey voted with moderate GOP members who put the cash toward infrastructure and construction projects.

Senate District 31: Many House members considered Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, one of their more nettlesome colleagues, but it hasn’t swayed him from seeking a Senate seat. Looking to stop him is Mike McConathy of Natchitoches, a Republican best known for his 24 years as coach of the Northwestern State University men’s basketball team.

Senate District 38: The profile of this contest rose when incumbent Sen. Barry Milligan, R-Shreveport, chose not to seek reelection. Three Republicans want to replace him: former senator John Milkovich of Keithville, who was a Democrat when he lost the seat to Milligan;  Shreveport’s Chase Jennings, once part of Congressman Mike Johnson’s regional staff; and current House District 6 Rep. Thomas Pressly of Shreveport, who opted against seeking reelection to his seat once Milligan said he would step down.

Milkovich has maintained a controversial presence at the State Capitol since leaving office, most notably in committee appearances where he linked autism to vaccines and repeated unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. 

Senate District 39: The term-limit forced departure of Sen. Greg Tarver has created a battle among three power broker Democrats and a Republican for the northwest Louisiana seat.

State Reps. Cedric Glover and Sam Jenkins are competing with former state Rep. Barbara Norton for Democrat votes, while Republican accountant Jim Slagle of Vivian looks for an upset.

House District 81: Former Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley is running to take the seat the House Speaker Clay Schexnayder held. St. James Parish Councilman James Amato is his lone opponent.

If Wiley wins, it would lead to a reunion of sorts on the House floor. His former chief deputy, Tony Bacala, was unopposed in District 59. The sheriffs’ lobby, already a super strong presence at the Capitol, would certainly gain more clout through this combo.    

House District 91: Incumbent Rep. Mandie Landry could be in a battle for her New Orleans-based seat. She faces fellow Democrats Ed Carlson and Madison O’Malley.

O’Malley’s residency at qualifying was called into question, but she prevailed in a court challenge. She has the backing of the Run for Something political action committee that seeks to put progressives in office nationwide. It’s odd given Landry’s firmly entrenched place as the legislature’s most progressive member.  

You can’t help but wonder whether opposition to Landry has any connection to her quarrels with leadership for the Louisiana Democratic Party, from which she briefly withdrew and became an independent. 

House District 92: Incumbent Rep. Joe Stagni meets former longtime Kenner City Councilman Mike Sigur in the Oct. 14 election. The race is notable not only because it pits two fixtures in local government, but because it’s Stagni’s first reelection since he became a reliable Republican vote against anti-LGBTQ measures in the legislature.

Greg LaRose is editor of Louisiana Illuminator and has covered news in the state for 30+ years.

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