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Louisiana’s legendary Senate president exiting Legislature

July 25, 2019
FILE - In this May 12, 2016, file photo, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, asks questions during a meeting of the state's income forecasting panel in Baton Rouge, La. Alario, who has been a fixture in state politics for five decades, says he's leaving the Legislature at the end of this term. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte, File)
FILE - In this May 12, 2016, file photo, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, asks questions during a meeting of the state's income forecasting panel in Baton Rouge, La. Alario, who has been a fixture in state politics for five decades, says he's leaving the Legislature at the end of this term. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Senate President John Alario, a fixture in state politics for five decades, announced Thursday that he’s leaving the Legislature at the end of this term, rather than trying to return to his old House seat.

Alario, 75, who has served as a state lawmaker since 1972, is term-limited from the Senate in early 2020. But he’d allowed speculation to linger that he might run for his old House seat in the fall election. On Thursday, Alario said he’s determined his legislative tenure is done.

“After many months of thoughtful deliberation, I have decided not to run for the House District 83 seat in the upcoming election. This decision is not one I make lightly, but it is what I believe to be best for my family,” Alario said in a statement. “They have always been my biggest supporters and I am looking forward to spending more time with them.”

Alario, a tax accountant, is legendary in Louisiana’s political scene, starting his legislative tenure representing Westwego as a Democrat and now registered as a Republican. During his nearly 48 years as a lawmaker, he has served twice as both House speaker and Senate president. The Senate said only four lawmakers in the nation have reached that benchmark, and Alario’s the only legislator in Louisiana to do so.

He’s worked closely with nearly every Republican and Democratic governor in office since his first election to the House. Even when he wasn’t in power, Alario was the consummate dealmaker, involved in most of the major legislative actions taken over the years.

“My career at the Legislature was filled with triumphs and challenges, and I will forever cherish every memory we made along the way,” he said.

Supporters have praised him as a calm, steady presence in tense legislative sessions and applauded his ability to broker tricky deals across political ideologies.

“There are no words to convey just how much John Alario has meant to the state of Louisiana over the past 48 years,” Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said in a statement. “His leadership and wisdom will be greatly missed in the halls of the Capitol. However, I know he is looking forward to spending some much deserved time with his family.”

Critics have described Alario as a symbol of an outdated political time who did little to fix the state’s systemic problems. Since switching to the Republican Party, GOP leaders have not embraced him, and he’s been assailed by some conservatives as too willing to work with Democratic leaders.

The Hayride, a conservative blog, praised news of Alario’s leaving by declaring “good riddance.” Publisher Scott McKay wrote that the Senate president’s departure will give the Legislature “the opportunity to become more independent and reform-minded.”

In May, Alario gave a farewell speech in a jampacked Senate chamber, attended by the current governor, former Gov. Edwin Edwards, former House speakers and Senate presidents, current and ex-statewide elected officials, state Supreme Court justices and others.

But at the time, no one was certain whether Alario was actually going to leave the Capitol or just move across the hall to the House.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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