For advocates of term limits for legislators, the situation in late 2018 isn’t exactly what they had in mind at the State Capitol.
This is the second time, after the 2007 election, where a significant number of legislators will not be able to seek re-election to their offices under a 12-year limit in the Louisiana Constitution.
Term limits were sold to voters in 1995 to get new blood into public office. People with better things to do with their lives would do a term or two of public service. Like Cincinnatus in ancient Rome, they would serve the Republic and then return to their farm and their plow.
As the second big shift of legislators is already demonstrating, republican idealism is far behind the traditional Louisiana notion of what’s-next-for-me.
This year, before the actual term limits hit, numerous members have left the Legislature. Since there are many lawyers, as is the case in other states, the legislative office is quite often a springboard to judgeships with a healthy retirement check ahead.
In one case this year, Republican Bob Hensgens, a nursing home administrator from Abbeville, won a special election shifting him from the House, where he'd been since 2011, to the Senate. His predecessor was Jonathan Perry, who moved to an appeals court judgeship.
Other special elections included filling the seats of state Rep. Greg Cromer, R-Slidell, who became mayor of his city, and Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, who became mayor of his city.
Other shifts included two new parish presidents in the Baton Rouge area coming from the state House: Kenny Havard in West Feliciana and Major Thibaut in Pointe Coupee.
So while the big term-limits shift is in the fall’s general election, the spring special elections will fill seven House seats of the 105-member chamber. The primary will be Feb. 23, and any runoffs needed on May 30. By then, the Legislature will be into its spring routine of meetings.
And those elected will be only for the unexpired terms, so if they want to keep their seats, they will have to run again in the fall.
We cannot know at this point how many senators who are term-limited will be elected to House seats, or vice versa. This is a switch pioneered in 2007 to avert the menace of term limits. Hensgens just did it in a special rather than a general election.
What is incontrovertible is that term limits are, like all arbitrary rules of a political system, apt to be manipulated in the interests of officeholders, so long as the voters are willing to shrug and go along with office swaps.