Columns » The State of the State by Jeremy Alford

The kids are all right


In the all-important 35-and-under demographic, the New Orleans legislative delegation holds its own with four young and restless Democrats. No other regional delegation has as many members who are closer to the bounce than the boom.

  And while some might think that translates into a lack of seniority, these 35-and-unders were first elected to the Louisiana Legislature at much younger ages. Today, they help the New Orleans region maintain a competitive power ranking in the Senate and a healthy lead in the House, based on years of service.

  Most are term-limited in 2020. That means their 2015 re-election bids and subsequent four-year terms — should they seek and win re-election — will be their last in their current posts. But don't count them out; each has enough political experience and gravitas to advance. All are positioned to move up.

  The most interesting storyline belongs to House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, who tells Gambit he has his sights on the big gavel in 2016. "I will absolutely be a candidate for speaker," he says, assuming the best for the next two years.

  Other sources indicate that Leger, who turned 35 June 22, also has opened up to the possibility of running for statewide office in 2015, most notably attorney general. He's working closely with a communications team, and a revamp of his campaign website is said to be in the works.

  "Certainly I've talked to people about that race and others," Leger says of the attorney general scenario, "but right now I'm really enjoying my time in the Legislature and being speaker pro tem and all the opportunities that affords me."

  His No. 2 spot in the House leadership has allowed Leger to play the role of deal broker, a position that has had him all over the map politically — from helping the administration and Republican leadership position an unpopular budget early in the session to teaming up with fellow Democrats and the conservative "fiscal hawks" to completely reposition it later in the process.

  Leger is a lawmaker who has joined the Black Caucus in announcements from the well of the House and then stood in the same spot later to quote former President Ronald Reagan and right-wing tax guru Grover Norquist. He admits some of it has been tongue-in-cheek, but not all. "I consider it part of my job to create opportunities for compromise," he says.

  If his politics seem scattered — lawmakers from his own delegation say he walks a "fine line" — then he embodies the rest of the House, which saw its factions divided this session when the hawks broke from GOP mainliners to partner with Dems and the Black Caucus. If he can keep his balance, Leger is likely to be the lead Democrat for speaker in 2016.

  Meanwhile, state Sen. J.P. Morrell, 34, has served the longest in this political version of The Breakfast Club, taking a House seat in 2006 before moving to the Senate two years later. His bills have been trending local: a reform commission that includes the city's judicial influencers; reviews of the New Orleans Police Department; Crescent City Connection operations; and restructuring proposals for the Sewerage and Water Board, New Orleans Lakefront Airport and New Orleans Regional Business Park.

  Why the local focus? Morrell wants to be mayor one day. "That's not unreasonable. You can put me in the ether," he says, adding, "but not against the current guy." That would be Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who endorsed Morrell in his bids for the Senate.

  Rep. Jared Brossett, 28, succeeded Morrell in the House after being mentored by the family matriarch, New Orleans City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, who is now term-limited in District D. Speculation has turned to Brossett as a possible successor to Hedge-Morrell on the council.

  Unlike the others, Rep. Helena Moreno, 35, can serve through 2024. She considered running for the council's District B seat in the past and lost a bid for the 2nd Congressional District seat in 2008, but her future could well include the legislative leadership or a statewide office. "You never want to close the door on an opportunity," she says. "I'm casting a wide net."

  But by the time some of them make their next moves, they will be nearing 40 — and a new crop of young political talents will be making its way up from the city and looking to make their own moves.

— Jeremy Alford is a freelance journalist in Baton Rouge. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter: @ alfordwrites.

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