Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Tony Bacala plans to retire and run for the state House of Representatives, meaning the loss of an important figure inside a well-regarded Sheriff’s Office but adding a potent new candidate to a wide-open legislative race this fall.

Bacala, a Republican, will run to replace state Rep. Eddie J. Lambert, R-Gonzales, who is term-limited and running for an open state Senate seat in Ascension. Two others have also indicated they are running for the House District 59 election Oct. 24. If elected, Bacala said, his top priority will be to improve crowded and sub-standard state highways in the parish.

“Ascension Parish has been an economic engine for the state of Louisiana” particularly because of the expansion of the petrochemical industry, Bacala said.

A lifelong resident of Ascension, Bacala has been with the Sheriff’s Office nearly four decades, joining it as a patrolman in November 1977 when he was 20 years old and still in college. Along the way to working his way up to chief deputy in 2000, Bacala has been a detective, the captain of the detective, juvenile and narcotics divisions, head of the sheriff’s civil division and, perhaps more important, a trusted ally to Sheriff Jeff Wiley.

As chief deputy, Bacala is the No. 2 person in the department, has been Wiley’s point man on many issues through the years and is often a regular face of the Sheriff’s Office http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/6190096-123/letter-victims-mother-expresses-gratitude">for the broader public.

Bacala, who has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from LSU, now oversees both the criminal and financial operations of the Sheriff’s Office and, by law as chief deputy, would serve as sheriff if Wiley were ever unable to fulfill his duties. The department has about 310 full-time employees and another 50 part-time employees.

“I have the highest regard for Tony,” Wiley said Tuesday. “Anybody who serves for thirty-seven and a half years certainly earns his right to retire.”

“We will miss him. He has been integral in the shaping of this department,” Wiley said.

He said that, with Bacala’s “character, his intelligence and his commitment to service, wherever he goes, the public will benefit.”

For several years, Bacala has been seen as Wiley’s heir apparent should the sheriff ever decide to retire.

Wiley recently announced he would be seeking a sixth consecutive term this fall after months of speculation swirled that Wiley might challenge Lambert for state Senate. The popular sheriff has no announced opponents for re-election.

Bacala said it is no secret he would have liked to have served as sheriff had Wiley ever decided to retire but added he also supports Wiley’s continuing as sheriff.

“I think that as long as he wants to serve as sheriff, the people ought to keep him sheriff,” Bacala said.

He said he has also long had an interest in serving in the state House but said it was tough to decide whether to leave the Sheriff’s Office, where he has worked much of his life.

In the end, Bacala said, he decided to run for public office because “it’s an opportunity, I think and consider, to serve the public in a different way.”

“Legislators should be solution oriented. I want to be able to solve the issues in Ascension Parish,” Bacala said.

Bacala said he expects to leave the Sheriff’s Office in about a month after he finishes several projects.

House District 59 is entirely within Ascension Parish east of the Mississippi River and includes parts of Dutchtown, Prairieville and the greater Gonzales area.

The other candidates are former one-term Ascension Parish councilmen: Jared “Burger” Beiriger and Pat Bell Sr.

Both men are Republicans from the Gonzales area known as Duplessis.

Bell, who could not be reached by phone for the past week and a half, has political signs out.

Beiriger, 42, who is a partner in an engineering company that handles private residential development and government contracts, confirmed he is running earlier this month after an announcement on Facebook.

Rep. Lambert has said he’s going to run for the seat held by Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, who is also term-limited and is not seeking other office.

Qualifying is Sept. 8 to 10.

Sheriff Wiley said he’s under no legal obligation to name a new chief deputy.

“I’m in no hurry to do that,” Wiley said.

“I’ve got the chief deputy I want and need for at least another month,” Wiley said.

Bacala’s wife, Lisa Bacala, is supervisor of secondary education for the Ascension Parish School Board.

His mother, Juanita “Nita” Bacala, now retired, was a longtime educator in the parish.

Tony and Lisa Bacala have three grown children and three grandchildren.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.