With candidate qualifying set to begin Tuesday morning, there are no known candidates on the horizon for more than half of Louisiana’s legislative seats, according to legislators keeping track of the situation.
Hotly contested races are shaping up in some districts, including the Baton Rouge area, where two incumbents are being challenged by current or former elected officials.
Around Louisiana, three former state senators have said they will challenge incumbents for their old seats.
But legislators in leadership roles say it’s unusually quiet in many House and Senate districts around the state as candidate signup looms for the Oct. 22 election.
It’s also quiet on the statewide ballot. Five Republican statewide-elected officials have token or no announced opposition, so far, including the governor. Contested races are shaping up for two others - lieutenant governor and secretary of state.
In the 105-member Louisiana House, there’s the potential for as many as 63 seats to go uncontested, unless challengers show up during Tuesday-through-Thursday’s qualifying period.
At a minimum, candidates for a majority of the House seats could walk in unopposed, according to two representatives who are keeping close tabs on who’s running as they court support to be the next House speaker.
The potential is there in the 39-member state Senate as well for uncontested races, said a Democratic leader and a veteran lawmaker who wants to be that chamber’s next top official.
Republican state Sen. John Alario, of Westwego, said there could be some surprise candidates.
“But most candidates are probably out there beating the bushes at this point,” said Alario, who wants to be Senate president.
“It’s a little surprising that there are so many people who have no known opponent,” said state Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, a candidate for House speaker.
Legislators are running from newly drawn districts. Population gains and losses throughout the state prompted a once-every decade realignment with the New Orleans area losing seats, as the Baton Rouge area gained.
Uncertainty surrounding the new districts could be playing a role, said Ginger Sawyer, a Louisiana Association of Business and Industry executive who watches legislative races.
In addition, there have been many special legislative elections to fill vacancies during the last term, with some legislators so new to their offices that no one is stepping up to challenge them, Sawyer said.
Lawmakers said other factors could be keeping down the legislative candidate field - from Louisiana’s current financial situation, with projected revenue problems continuing, to family and business circumstances.
“Why would you want to run right now if you want to save the world? There’s no money, and cuts are painful,” said state Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
“It’s a very difficult economic climate to go out and raise money (for a campaign),” said House speaker candidate and state Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge. And then, he said, many people don’t want to sacrifice the time and expense away from their families and businesses.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, and Ponti said some people may be concerned about new laws requiring legislators and legislative candidates to disclose their personal finances.
“I don’t think disclosure ought to discourage people, but apparently it really does,” said Claitor, who is a Senate president candidate. “It’s not that big a deal from my point of view.”
Uncontested races could also mean that “people are pleased with their representatives,” Ponti said.
“Basically, in Louisiana, people are as satisfied as they can be in an economy of this type,” said Alario.
Some announced candidates for open seats aren’t facing opposition so far either, such as state Rep. Paige Cortez, R-Lafayette, who is running for Senate, and former state Rep. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, another Senate candidate.
Political consultant Roy Fletcher who had been gearing up to work in several state senate races said his clients both incumbents, and those seeking open seats have lost opponents in recent days.
“The Legislature’s (favorability) numbers are not bad. In fact, they are pretty decent for the legislative branch and money is so difficult to get,” Fletcher said.
Where there are contested legislative races, some interesting matchups are developing.
State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, D-Baton Rouge, has attracted opposition from the term-limited state Rep. Michael Jackson, D-Baton Rouge. Another potential opponent is former congressman and ex-state Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge.
In the House, Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus chairwoman state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, is being challenged by former Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman Lorri Burgess, running as a Democrat.
“Those of us with opposition, it’s not that we are not doing a good job. It’s that some people just like to run,” said Smith.
Former state Sen. James David Cain, R-Dry Creek, is trying to make a political comeback, challenging state Sen. John Smith, R-Leesville. Cain lost a run for the Louisiana House after he was term-limited in the state Senate.
Ex-state Sens. Don Cravins, D-Opelousas, and Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport, have said they will try to win back their old seats. Cravins will try to oust state Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, and Tarver will challenge state Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport.