The impact of term limits on the Louisiana Legislature is not debatable, given the turnover likely in the 144 members of House and Senate this year.
Whether their voters back home approve of their performance or not, about 1 in 5 lawmakers will be seeking another job in the October primary election or retiring from elective politics altogether.
Twenty-two of 105 House members, by latest count, say they aren’t running for re-election to that chamber in the fall. On the Senate side, nine of 39 members are in the same situation.
The 21 legislators who have hit the maximum three, four-year terms are not barred from running for the Senate, if they’re currently in the House, or vice versa. A few are seeking bigger elected jobs: Gordon Dove, R-Houma, is trying to become president of Terrebonne Parish. Democratic Sen. Sharon Broome and Republican Rep. Joel Robideaux are running for the top spots in city-parish government in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, respectively.
Of four major candidates for governor, only one is currently a legislator, two-term Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite.
But another problem with term limits is the loss of talent, if not to public life at least to the House and Senate chambers. We have agreed or, mostly, disagreed with Senate President John Alario, but the Westwego lawmaker — formerly a Democrat, now a Republican — is without a peer in the chambers for his capacity as a legislative dealmaker. A long-serving House member before term limits kicked in, Alario’s vast experience clearly contributes to his success in the State Capitol.
For those who believe dealmaking is inconsistent with good government, they’d be happy to see Alario go after decades. But he’s got one more term available to him, and it’s difficult to imagine him not being a player in the new Senate, if not its president again.
The biggest impact of term limits was in the 2007 election, in which Gov. Bobby Jindal also came into office. That year, about half of the seats changed. Given the spotty record of those members since, with a state budget held together with duct tape and independence from Jindal rare indeed, the class of ’07 is not exactly an advertisement for the utility of arbitrary term limits.
Members of the House running for the Senate are likely to boast of their ability to get things done because they know the ropes of the Legislature. But the advocates of term limits years ago wanted less experience and more fresh thinking. We wonder if they’ve gotten what they were angling for.