Nearly half of Louisiana’s state legislators have won re-election to new four-year terms without having to campaign, when no one signed up this week to challenge them.
Twenty of 39 senators and 49 of 105 House members drew no opponents during the three-day candidate registration period that ended Thursday. Their names won’t appear on the Oct. 24 ballot because they were deemed “elected unopposed.”
One unopposed House candidate who will take office in January has never served in the Legislature.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler said he was stunned how many officials around Louisiana were elected automatically when no one qualified to run against them, about 43 percent of the 1,150 offices on the ballot statewide. He called it an “astounding figure” and cited continued voter apathy, locally and nationally.
Barry Erwin, president of the Council For A Better Louisiana, which advocates for education and other issues at the state capitol, said Louisiana’s difficult and continued budget problems likely have lessened interest in legislative seats.
“The budget is horrible. We’ve got infrastructure issues that are begging for attention. Our health care situation is still not rectified,” Erwin said. “It’s not fun stuff. It’s not like there are dollars to bring back to your neighborhood or to bring back to your districts.
“It’s just not a pleasant place to be right now,” he said.
In some instances, Erwin said, the lack of competition for incumbents may be a function of term limits, where interested candidates wait for entrenched lawmakers to hit their three-term cap and vacate the seat, rather than challenge them directly.
Eleven Senate seats didn’t have incumbents this year, with term limits preventing seven senators from running again and four others deciding against re-election bids. Twenty-two House seats had no incumbents seeking to hang onto the positions.
But even an open seat doesn’t necessarily draw heated competition.
Stephen Dwight, a Republican lawyer from Calcasieu Parish, won a vacant Lake Charles-area House seat without opposition. Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, is term-limited and unable to run for re-election.
Geymann said Dwight has had his eye on the House position for years, waiting for it to open and making it well-known that he would seek the job. General counsel for the local sheriff’s department, Dwight was going to be a tough candidate for others to beat, Geymann said.
“He’s really been sort of grooming for this seat, waiting for me to get out. I think he’s been taking steps all along. He’s very well-liked,” Geymann said. “He’s a very strong, very quality candidate. He’s right on the issues for our district.”
In the Senate, only one of the 11 open seats wasn’t contested. Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales, will move up to the Senate without a challenge.