Aug 7, 2011 2:25 PM by Chris Welty
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Term limits cleared out much of
Louisiana's Legislature within the last few years, and some of
those lawmakers weren't ready to go when their time was up. Now, a
few longtime legislators are trying to return, seeking to oust
those who took their place.
Others hitting their three-term caps in the House are trying to
switch to the Senate, in bids to either unseat incumbent senators
or step into vacant seats, so they don't have to leave the state
All 39 Senate seats and 105 House seats will be on the Oct. 22
ballot. The races drawing the most attention so far, in many
instances, will pit entrenched politicians against each other.
In southwest Louisiana, James David Cain of Dry Creek is hoping
to force Sen. John Smith of Leesville out of the seat Cain held
before term limits kept him from a re-election bid four years ago.
Both men are Republicans, but the GOP party leaders have thrown
their support behind Cain, who lined up commitments for his
election bid before Smith switched parties late last year.
"Certainly, there are those folks who miss the trappings of
Baton Rouge. I think the whole notion of coming back is certainly
contrary to what the population agreed to or was thinking about
when it supported term limits for legislators," said Sen. Lydia
Jackson, D-Shreveport, who faces a challenge from the man who held
the seat before her, Greg Tarver.
Tarver left the Senate a few years before term limits would have
forced him out, after two decades in the seat. The 65-year-old
owner of a mortuary company said he was urged to return to the
Legislature by local leaders and ministers unsatisfied with
Jackson, who's been in office since 2004.
The pair has had a tense relationship for years.
"I was enjoying retirement. My wife and I were having fun. But
you know, sometimes duty calls. You can't forget your basic
teaching in life, giving back," Tarver said.
Asked whether he thought voters might think he's trying to evade
the spirit of term limits, Tarver replied, "I delivered. I worked
with people. I'm not concerned about what people might say."
A lawmaker's time is capped at three consecutive, four-year
terms in one chamber. But there is no lifetime limit, so House
members and senators can seek election to the other chamber after
reaching their term limits. They can also leave and then seek to
come back after hitting their cap.
If Tarver and his one-time colleagues return to the seats they
left four to seven years ago, however, they'll find the Louisiana
Capitol and a Legislature quite different from the one they left:
more partisanship, more public disclosure requirements, less
partying in the hours after session ends each day.
"The good `ol boy atmosphere that was dominant has been
replaced with people who really are more part-timers," said Bernie
Pinsonat, a Baton Rouge-based pollster. "It is a totally new
world. Being a Democrat or being a Republican means a lot more. The
camaraderie is not what it used to be."
Opelousas Mayor Don Cravins Sr. said his one-time colleagues
have questioned his sanity for considering a return to Baton Rouge.
But Cravins still is considering a run against Sen. Elbert
The two families have had a bitter political feud for years.
Cravins left the Senate a year before his term limit and after
25 years in the seat. He said he'll make a decision next week about
whether he'll try to return.
"My heart is really to go back," he said. He added, "I'm one
who believes that experience makes a difference. You go in and you
don't need any on-the-job training. Regardless of how much the
Legislature has changed, it's still the Legislature."
In the Lake Charles area, Ronnie Johns, a Republican from
Sulphur who was term-limited from the House in 2004, waited until
his area's senator, Willie Mount, faced a cap on her time in
office. Now, Johns is running for the open Senate seat.
Meanwhile, speculation continues that Cleo Fields, a former
congressman forced out of the Senate by term limits four years ago,
may try to make a return to the post.
If he gets in the race, Fields would face incumbent Sen. Yvonne
Dorsey and Rep. Michael Jackson, who is term-limited in the House.
All three are Democrats from Baton Rouge.
Also seeking Senate seats because they've hit their maximum time
in the House are Reps. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston; Gary Smith, D-Norco;
Jane Smith, R-Bossier City; and Damon Baldone, D-Houma. Baldone is
trying to oust first-term incumbent Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Little