State Term Limits Create Opportunities

Posted November 12, 2007 at 6:34pm

With the bright glare that’s currently radiating off of Louisiana’s 36-year-old Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal (R), it might be tough to even see other rising stars in the Bayou State’s skyline. [IMGCAP(1)]

But while Jindal may be the poster child for young talent in Louisiana politics, he’s not alone. And these days, many of the state’s up-and-coming politicos are getting a boost from the past efforts of Sen. David Vitter (R), himself a one-time rising star in the state.

Back when he was a state lawmaker, Vitter led the effort to push through a tough term-limits law in 1995 during the height of the “Republican revolution” that was aimed at cleaning up government and attacking the power of incumbency. Now, 12 years later, the fruits of Vitter’s efforts are forcing a major turnover in the state House.

An analysis this year by The Times-Picayune in New Orleans put the turnover rate heading into the 2007 state legislative elections at more than 40 percent, or almost double the usual rate.

Scholars have debated how effective term limits have been at creating a more accountable government, but one thing that term limits absolutely do is create opportunities for young politicians.

“After term limits finally got adopted, this is the first election where many of the old lions of the Legislature who have been in for many, many years have been turned out of office,” said Hunter Johnston, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and son of former Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-La.). Along with Jindal heading from Congress to the governor’s mansion, “you’re going to have a lot of new

personalities in the Legislature.”

For example, state Senate President Donald Hines (D) was termed out of office this year, which allowed state Rep. Kenneth Eric LaFleur (D) the opportunity to run for his seat. LaFleur, who resides in Rep. Charles Boustany’s (R) 7th Congressional district and is mentioned as a candidate for higher office in future cycles, is currently in a runoff race that will be decided this week.

Term limit considerations also played a role in the state Senate campaigns of Democratic state Reps. Cheryl Gray, from New Orleans, and Gil Pinac, from southwest Louisiana, both of whom have been mentioned as prospects for higher office in the state.

“We’ve elected quite a few new guys between the implementation of term limits, the overall environment that’s been more friendly to Republicans and [Jindal’s] election,” said Jason Dore, political director for the Louisiana Republican Party.

State Sen.-elect Steve Scalise (R) is one GOP rising star who was termed out of his House seat this year and decided to make the jump to the state Senate. But he may not stay long in that chamber: Jindal’s gubernatorial election created opportunity in his safely Republican 1st Congressional district. Scalise sought the 1st district seat for a time in 2004 before deferring to Jindal, and party officials are mentioning him as a top contender in a special election to replace the governor-elect. Scalise reported more than $100,000 in his Congressional campaign account as of Sept. 30.

Along with opening up job opportunities, term limits also have allowed younger politicos to seek leadership roles within the Legislature sooner than they might have otherwise.

“That’s their benefit from term limits,” said Danny Ford, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party. A younger crop of legislators “is now going to be your leadership in the House and the Senate.”

“You look at some people who have been around four or eight years — they are the ones with the experience in the chamber,” Dore agreed.

One high-profile example is state Rep. Don Cazayoux (D) who was elected in 1999 and currently is among the top names being mentioned for Speaker of the Louisiana House. Cazayoux resides in Rep. Richard Baker’s (R) 6th Congressional district and has been touted as a future prospect by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Outside the state Legislature, up-and-comers are making their way in executive office in Louisiana as well.

State officials are keeping a close eye on this week’s attorney general runoff race between lawyer and formal Congressional aide Royal Alexander (R), and Buddy Caldwell (D), the district attorney for several parishes. The race is the only statewide runoff taking place.

Alexander served as chief of staff to Rep. Rodney Alexander (R) — no relation — and is a darling of the party.

“It remains to be seen how [the runoff race] is going to turn out for [Alexander], but if he misses out in the runoff he’ll still be somebody to watch in the future,” Dore said. Alexander hails from Shreveport, which currently is represented by Rep. Jim McCrery (R).

Some non-state legislators mentioned by state and national Democratic officials as possible Congressional candidates in the future include Keith Hightower, a businessman and former mayor of Shreveport and Jacques Roy, the mayor of Alexandria, which is in Rodney Alexander’s 5th district.