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Sunday, March 24, 2019



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Analysis: Louisiana lawmakers leaving ahead of term's end

Analysis: Louisiana lawmakers leaving ahead of term's end



BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana Legislature has been shedding members at a high rate, with 15 percent of lawmakers leaving their elected positions without completing their terms in the last three years.

Blame term limits or the heavy workload across a record number of legislative sessions. Blame partisanship or the general lack of enjoyment about having to repeatedly debate budget cuts and taxes. Whatever the reason, the reshuffling of House and Senate members continues, and it's causing repeated special elections to keep the jobs filled.

Twenty-two state lawmakers have left office since the term began in January 2016, two senators and 20 members of the House. Nearly one out of every five House members from the start of the term is no longer in the chamber, a higher turnover rate than any term going back four decades, according to data provided by the House.

Some lawmakers left for jobs at government agencies. Others won elections to switch to different offices they preferred. One lawmaker died fewer than two months into the term.

When then-Rep. Chris Broadwater announced his resignation in December 2017 from the seat representing Tangipahoa Parish, the Republican said the job was taking too much time away from his wife and four daughters.

"I cannot continue to allow (my wife) to handle a disproportionate share with regard to our family," Broadwater wrote.

Louisiana has had 10 legislative sessions in three years — three regularly-scheduled annual sessions and seven special sessions called by Gov. John Bel Edwards to deal with state finances. Those sessions often involved contentious, high-stress debates over taxes and budget cuts in which conservative House Republican leaders and the Democratic governor repeatedly clashed.

Rob Shadoin, a moderate Republican from Ruston, described working through repeated sessions marked by gridlock and animosity: "It feels like I'm aging in dog years. For every year I'm down here, it feels like seven."

Shadoin left the House in October to become Department of Wildlife and Fisheries deputy counsel in the Edwards administration.

Edwards, a former House member himself, has blamed an increasing partisan atmosphere for some exits.

"I have an awful lot of legislators telling me that it's not as fun to be there anymore. They don't feel like they're being as productive as they should be," Edwards said on his radio show.

The vacancies were filled across 10 election cycles during the three-year period, according to the Louisiana secretary of state's office. Five election dates were created specifically to fill empty legislative seats, an expense that otherwise wouldn't have been needed.

Many lawmakers left for other elected jobs.

Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Benton was elected to Congress. Democratic Rep. Helena Moreno won a New Orleans City Council position, and Republican Rep. Tom Willmott was elected to the Kenner City Council. GOP Rep. Greg Cromer became mayor of Slidell, while Democratic Rep. Mike Danahay became mayor of Sulphur. Republican Rep. John Schroder resigned to run for state treasurer, a job he won.

Other lawmakers, like Shadoin, resigned for appointed positions.

Democratic Rep. Jack Montoucet of Crowley took a job as Edwards' wildlife and fisheries secretary. Democratic Rep. Gene Reynolds of Minden left to oversee the state parks system. Republican Rep. Bryan Adams of Gretna left for the fire marshal's office. Republican Rep. Joe Lopinto resigned to work for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office and later was elected sheriff.

Democratic Sen. Troy Brown resigned in February 2017 rather than face likely expulsion after he was involved in two domestic violence incidents. Democratic Rep. Ed Price was then elected to fill that Senate seat.

New vacancies also opened after the November and December elections.

Republican Bob Hensgens, of Abbeville, won a special election shifting him from the House to the Senate. He takes over the Senate seat vacated by Jonathan Perry, who moved to an appeals court judgeship. Reps. Marcus Hunter of Monroe and Chris Hazel of Pineville won judgeships; Reps. Kenny Havard of West Feliciana Parish and Major Thibaut of Pointe Coupee Parish won parish president jobs; and Rep. Jeff Hall was elected Alexandria mayor.

Seven House seats are now open, with elections planned in February and March for brief terms. The regular statewide election for all 144 legislative seats happens in October.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte