The Republican takeover of the Louisiana Legislature is all but certain, and it won't have to wait until the statewide elections next fall. Thanks to a handful of recent Democratic defections as well as several imminent special elections (called after two recent resignations in the Senate), the GOP is poised to control both the House and Senate when lawmakers gather in late April.
That's quite a change from the Legislature that convened in January 2008, after the last round of statewide elections.
In 2008, the incoming Louisiana House had 53 Democrats, 48 Republicans and 4 Independents. Today, those numbers are reversed: 53 Republicans, 47 Democrats and 4 Independents. One House seat was recently vacated by new Congressman Cedric Richmond of eastern New Orleans. The race to succeed Richmond drew four Democrats and no Republicans, so the Democrats' House count will rise to 48. That still puts them in the minority for the first time since Reconstruction.
While the Republican majority in the House is noteworthy, it's less of a turnaround than what we're seeing in the Senate.
In 2008, the incoming Louisiana Senate had 23 Democrats and 16 Republicans. Today, the Senate has 19 Democrats and 18 Republicans — and two vacancies. That's where the GOP is poised to capture a majority. State Sens. Nick Gautreaux, D-Abbeville, and Troy Hebert, I-Jeanerette, both recently resigned to take positions in the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The elections to succeed them will be held in the next few months — before the annual legislative session begins on April 25. In Hebert's district, no Democrat is running. Four Republicans and two independents have qualified, and the two leading candidates are House Republicans. A victory by one of the frontrunners would put the GOP even with Democrats in the Senate.
Qualifying has not yet occurred in Gautreaux's district, which, like many other Cajun areas, has leaned Republican in recent elections.
The bottom line is that the Louisiana Senate could soon have 20 Republicans — a one-vote majority — and possibly even 21, as state Sen. Norby Chabert, D-Chauvin, reportedly is thinking about a party switch.
Looking ahead, the state Senate could conceivably have a two-thirds Republican majority next year. That prognosis assumes that all current Republican senators either get re-elected or are replaced by other Republicans, which is not an unreasonable assumption in light of recent trends. In addition to holding onto their current and projected seats, Republicans hope to capture the seats of term-limited Senate Democrats. Five of the six term-limited senators are Democrats, and all hail from districts that have become increasingly conservative in recent years. If the GOP captures them all, it could hold 26 of the Senate's 39 seats — a two-thirds majority.
That's a huge swing from just one year ago, and it easily outpaces any projected GOP gains in the House. It also would make the Senate the more conservative chamber for the first time in memory.
Whatever the size of the GOP's legislative majorities, the change in party dominance will raise some intriguing political questions:
How will the Republicans govern? Internally, will they "share" committee chairmanships with Democrats — as Democrats did with them? Equally important, will legislative committees be balanced along party lines, or will key committees be stacked with Republicans?
Externally, will a newly elected Gov. Bobby Jindal have an easier time getting his way with the GOP-controlled Legislature, or will it be politics as usual?
Finally, what impact will the Republican majorities have on the state's fiscal policies?
For now, the GOP is licking its chops at the prospect of controlling both legislative houses. But the glow of victory will soon give way to the sober realities of having to govern — and deliver.