Some news stories come and go in a day. Some drag on for years.
The tale of term limits in the Louisiana Legislature is nearing the quarter-century mark, just as it approaches its inevitable conclusion.
Key characters there at the beginning included then-state Rep. David Vitter and then-state Sen. Jay Dardenne, the authors of the 1995 constitutional amendment to create a slowly revolving door. The two were never allies, but they had a common agenda to bring new blood to Baton Rouge.
It happened, but oh so slowly. To convince reluctant lawmakers to swallow this “Vitter Pill,” as Dardenne once jokingly called it, the authors gave everyone the chance to serve three consecutive four-year terms in each house, starting then.
Twelve years later came the first big plot twist, the wholesale departure from the House of a generation of career legislators, to be replaced by a younger, greener, more confrontational and often more partisan crew. Many of those old hands moved over the Senate, where they reset the countdown clock another dozen years.
This fall, their time finally expires.
And so the legislators many Louisianans have been watching for years are set to move on. Thirty-one of 105 House members — that first group to fill the openings left by the onset of term limits — are leaving. They include official leaders such as House Speaker Taylor Barras, Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger III, and quite a few committee chairs and other high-profile members. Some will run for Senate seats this fall and some won’t, but regardless, the change will be pronounced.
It will be even more noticeable in the Senate, where 16 of 39 senators are termed out, a long list that includes many of the Capitol’s most recognizable names — and in the case of JP Morrell, its most prolific bill filer.
It also includes what’s left of the real old guard, the legislators who were there back in the Vitter/Dardenne days. I’d say that first among equals in this group is Senate President John Alario, except that the man really has no equal.
In his 48 years, Alario has been House speaker and Senate president, both twice. He’s been a Democrat and a Republican, and has worked closely with governors of both parties, from Edwin Edwards to Bobby Jindal to John Bel Edwards.
And, especially as the House has become more confrontational, he’s kept the trains running on time through a combination of qualities you don’t see every day.
The tears, John Alario said privately beforehand, began the previous day, as he was contemplating what he would say during his farewell speech…
One is a mastery of the process, and understanding of all the tools a legislative leader can use to push a desired result, whether in public or behind the scenes.
A second is a philosophy that has its roots in the old days, the belief that the Legislature should give any governor’s agenda a chance at success. Alario managed to combine that instinct with an ability to help his members get what they wanted or needed if he could, which explains how he held the support of his GOP-majority members even as he worked with the current Gov. Edwards.
A third is Alario’s gentlemanly manner, combined with a reputation for playing it straight with colleagues.
Of course, some would look at Alario’s long history and see an argument for term limits.
Over the years he’s drawn criticism for using his campaign account on sports tickets and other perks. He’s sent tons of money back to his district, which centers on Jefferson Parish’s West Bank, including for facilities named for his late father (This year his colleagues passed a bill allowing state facilities to be named for him, even though the law generally requires someone to be dead first. It’s now on Edwards’ desk awaiting action). He’s resisted growing partisanship in the Legislature, even after Republicans won hard-fought majorities in both Houses. And he’s basically functioned as the ultimate insider.
Those are all reasons some people might argue that it’s time for him and his peers to go.
Me, I’m going to withhold my final review until I see what comes next.
Correction: Friday's column said that state Rep. Neil Abramson was the only Democrat who did not back Walt Leger III for House speaker in the first round of voting. Abramson was the only one who did not back Leger in the second vote, the one in which Taylor Barras prevailed.