Carencro Rep. Stephen Ortego says a flood of last minute negative mailers, handbills and commercials helped his double-digit lead turn into an election night defeat by 247 votes.
Democrat Ortego’s loss to Republican Julie Emerson, of Carencro, flips the seat to the GOP. Emerson said in statement that she won by knocking on thousands of doors.
Ortego says her win was the result of tens of thousands of dollars pouring into the district from business interests that want to limit access to courts for plaintiffs filing civil lawsuits.
Incumbent Reps. Ortego, Nick Lorusso, R-New Orleans, and Ebony Woodruff, D-Harvey, all lost their reelection bids Saturday, while six other incumbent House members found themselves in runoffs.
But these fights are on the edges.
Nothing significant will change in the Louisiana Legislature that will be called upon to fill budget deficits for two separate fiscal years, to rewrite the budgeting procedures and decide which tax breaks to jettison. By the end of Saturday night, 103 of the 144 House and Senate members – 71.5 percent – were elected, most of whom were incumbents without opponents.
Four of 39 Senate seats and 15 of 105 House seats are on the Nov. 21 runoff ballot, according to the unofficial tallies that will be certified by the Secretary of State on Nov. 5. Republicans will stay firmly in control of both chambers, no matter what happens in that election.
House Majority leader Lance Harris, of Alexandria, counted 60 GOP representatives right now, and possibly picking up two more. The House needs 70 votes — the Senate needs 26 — to reach the super majority that would allow Republicans to do pretty whatever they want without regard to Democratic positions.
“Historically, we’ve been able to work together, depending on the issue. But it does put us 10 or eight votes closers and that make it’s easier to get things done,” Harris said.
The Louisiana Republican Party will help raise money and mail fliers in the two Senate and two House runoffs in which Democrats face Republicans, executive director Jason Doré said.
Republican state Rep. Ray Garofalo, of Chalmette, says he also is a target, but from the other side. The attorneys who represent victims in civil lawsuits, whom Garofalo and his allies call trial lawyers, have poured money into the race. Garofalo was the representative who sponsored the bill that would reduce the limit that would require a case to be heard by juries. In Louisiana, cases worth less than $50,000 can be determined by a judge. Lowering the limit, which is one the highest in the nation, would allow juries to decide more cases. Lowering the “jury threshold” is expected to be one of the big issues during the legislative session that begins March 14.
“I’m the one that won’t back off. They’re just mad at me,” Garofalo said.
Incumbent Democratic Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, of Dry Creek, came within 126 votes of winning outright. She now faces Republican Llewellyn Smith, who goes by the name “Biscuit.”
Republicans in the House also picked up a vacant seat in Acadiana that belonged to Mickey Guillory, a term-limited Democrat from Eunice, while Democrats in the Senate reclaimed a seat that had been held by Republican Elbert Guillory of Opelousas, who mounted a failed campaign for lieutenant governor.
The kissing congressman, former U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, who was caught on a security video necking with a married aide in the dark and lost his congressional seat, made an unsuccessful effort to revive his political career, this time as a state senator. He was pummeled by incumbent Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, who received 62 percent of the vote.
Rep. Lenar Whitney, of Houma, is another Republican whose fame recently went worldwide. When she ran for congress last fall, Whitney’s ad calling global warming a hoax attracted international attention when British comedian Russell Brand picked it a part over repeated episodes of his comedy series.
Whitney says she has been targeted by trial lawyer money and that her opponents exaggerated and misrepresented her positions and votes. “Everybody says they don’t like a negative campaign, but it seems to work,” Whitney said. “We focused on promises I made and promises kept.”
Baton Rouge Republican Rep. Darrell Ourso, who barely won a special election a couple weeks before the legislative session convened, faced four opponents in his bid for a full four-year term, most of whom blasted him over and over again for supporting the rollback of parts of various tax breaks that business dubbed a tax increase. He faces a challenge from the Rev. Rick Edmonds, a former Baptist pastor who is vice president of the Louisiana Family Forum.
A little political payback may have contributed to New Orleans state Rep. Nick Lorusso’s defeat in Saturday’s election.
Lorusso lost to fellow Republican Stephanie Hilferty — a political newcomer who also had some support from traditional Democratic donors.
State Republican Party chairman Roger Villere made a robocall urging district voters to support Hilferty.
“I just sent him a message,” Villere said, of helping Hilferty over the incumbent.
Villere’s problem with Lorusso involved a little known law dealing with the filing of political organization finance reports.
“He had some issues with some things we were doing. Instead of sitting down and talking to us like reasonable people do he went to the legislative auditor,” Villere said. The auditor requested three years of financial reports.
Lorusso did not respond to a series of interview requests.
Political grudges, this time on the west bank of Jefferson Parish, probably contributed to her defeat, said Democratic Rep. Woodruff of Harvey, one of the three incumbents to be beaten.
“I lost because of local politics. The councilmen weren’t backing me,” Woodruff said. “I’m an independent person and I won’t bow down to the status quo.”
She was criticized for not having an office in the district. Woodruff said she moved to a new office a couple blocks away in January 2015 because her lease expired and she couldn’t afford the new amount.
The 2016 Legislature also could turn into a Carter-copia.
Joining Baton Rouge Rep. Steve Carter, chairman of the House Education committee, will be someone named Carter to replace John Bel Edwards, who is running for governor. Robby Carter, a former state representative from Greensburg, is in a runoff with his “far-off” cousin, Hunter Carter, a Greensburg alderman.
Both are Democrats. But Hunter Carter is getting GOP-type support, including from Koch Industries, Lane Grigsby, LABI PACs and Boysie Bollinger. Robbie Carter is getting money from lawyers and more traditional Democratic sources such as teacher and labor unions.
In another all-Democratic runoff, Wilford Dan Carter Sr., a former 14th Judicial District judge, is in a runoff with incumbent Rep. A.B. Franklin, of Lake Charles.
Then, in the Senate New Orleans City Councilman Troy Carter faces term-limited state Rep. Jeff Arnold, a fellow Democrat from the Algiers neighborhood for a west bank New Orleans seat.
State Sen. Ben Nevers said “Mickey” Murphy, a Democrat who is running for his Senate seat, will benefit from Edwards supporters in the area. John Bel Edwards got 45 percent in Washington Parish. That was extremely high for a very conservative district and a lot of the district is in north Tangipahoa where Edwards House district is located. “The governor’s race will have a positive impact,” Nevers said. “I think he does have a chance of winning” over Republican “Beth” Mizell, he said.
Reps. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge; Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro; and Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, won their elections. Meanwhile, Reps. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, and Dalton Honoré, D-Baton Rouge, won’t be moving to the upper chamber.
Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/