The dean of the La. legislature discusses his legacy and ponders his future

The dean of the La. legislature discusses his legacy and ponders his future

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - He has been in the state legislature for 48 years and even has a hallway in the state capitol building named for him and now Senate President John Alario is pondering whether he will attempt to return to the legislative chamber where his legendary political career began.

“That's my father, John Alario Senior. My dad grew up during the depression, very difficult time for him with a large family, there were about nine children in the family,” Alario said while holding an artist’s rendition of his father.

And his father’s words undoubtedly influenced the younger Alario’s future.

"My dad always instilled public service,” said Alario during a one-on-one interview with FOX 8 News.

In 1971, Alario ran for the state legislature. But he said a redistricting plan affecting his community almost dissuaded him from entering the race.

“The very first time the seat opened up I wasn't going to do it, there was a reapportionment plan that had Westwego split in half and when I looked at the numbers, I said, well, this doesn't fit the people that I know, that was thrown out, the court appointed a special master...I said well let's give it a shot then I ran at that time,” said Alario.

And he won and ever since the voters of his district have sent him back to the state capitol.

"I went in when Edwin [Edwards] got his first term,” said Alario of the then new governor.

Alario’s cache of photos depict relationships he built over the decades in Baton Rouge. He is pictured with former Governors Edwin Edwards, Dave Treen, and Kathleen Blanco, the late Sen. Sammy Nunez and former Lieutenant Governor Jimmy Fitzmorris and others.

John Alario and former Gov. Edwin Edwards Photo Courtesy: Sen. John Alario
John Alario and former Gov. Edwin Edwards Photo Courtesy: Sen. John Alario

The pictures tell a story as does Alario’s words.

"When I first started in the legislature oil was about 44-percent of our total budget it's down now to something a little less 10-percent, actually gaming revenue is more revenue to the state than oil and gas is,” he said.

His entry into the legislature came at a time when Democrats dominated the state’s political landscape.

"Back in the seventies everybody in Louisiana was a Democrat almost and a very few Republicans at that time. It was some folks who started to break out of that like Dave Treen and some others,” noted Alario.

Treen was a Republican who served as governor.

And later the political winds shifted even more in the state and so did Alario. As a long time Democrat, Alario switched to the Republican party along with a number of other prominent Democrats.

"When I looked at the Senate District that I now represent it had more of a Republican, conservative mix to it and I thought that in order to represent that district I should express their views from that perspective,” said Alario about his decision.

John Alario pictured with Dave Treen and others. Photo Courtesy: Sen. John Alario
John Alario pictured with Dave Treen and others. Photo Courtesy: Sen. John Alario

He is known as a consensus builder, someone who brings people with diverse views together.

When asked about that, Alario said, "I find that if you listen to the other guy awhile he has some good ideas and if he listens to you for a little while you've got some good ideas and in a democracy you put those together and that's what makes it all works."

Having worked with numerous Louisiana governors, Alario was asked if he has a favorite.

“Well, I served with seven governors… each of them had their strengths, as human beings we all have weaknesses, you know, Edwin Edwards was my first governor so you kind of favor maybe your first time like maybe your first-grade teacher I guess kind of thing, but the rest of them have all shown a strong desire to make Louisiana a much, much better place and if I leave politics now it will be with a high regard for each and every one of them,” said Alario.

For most of his political journey his beloved wife Ree was by his side.

"When she knew the end was near, we talked about it and she of course was more concerned as I am about the welfare of my daughter who is a handicapped child, living with me, she was worried about that and she also knew that I liked public service and she encouraged me to continue to do that, so that kind of eased the pain from that perspective but I miss her every day,” he said.

At 75, Alario’s photo collection also includes pictures of him with U.S. presidents, including Democrat Bill Clinton and President Donald Trump, a Republican and Pope John Paul.

At the state level he is known as an expert on all things pertaining to the state budget, and as Senate president Alario sits on the state’s revenue estimating panel.

But unlike when he entered the legislature decades ago there are now term-limits and after nearly 50 years his final term in the Senate is almost up. So, there is pressure from some inside and outside of state government for Alario to run again for the state House.

John Alario and Sen. Sammy Nunez. Courtesy: Sen. John Alario
John Alario and Sen. Sammy Nunez. Courtesy: Sen. John Alario

FOX 8 asked Alario if term-limits serve constituents well.

“I think in the end it does, at the end of a term in the Senate at this point could constitutionally go back to the House of Representatives and it's part of what I guess I'm trying to debate now and talking with people in this area about what's the right thing to do, but I think in the long run it will work itself out, I see some bright young people coming on the scene” he said.

If he does decide to run again for a legislative seat, he knows he will be criticized by some.

"That's a consideration but if this constitution wanted to provide that you couldn't do it, it would have provided for it, so the law does provide for it to happen, I understand and politics doesn't come without criticism,” Alario said.

Alario said institutional knowledge has its place in the political process. And among what he considers to be his top accomplishments as a legislator was his push to help children with special needs.

"I remember one of the first things we fought with and fought actually with Edwin Edwards at the time was to provide special education for children in Louisiana. We used to ship children off to Texas to provide for special needs care and we thought that, that care should be provided for the children in Louisiana,” said Alario.

Alario was asked how he thinks history will judge him.

“I hope that they'll just say that I was a fair man and tried to work with everybody and try to get things done for the betterment of the state, that I tried to make opportunities available for children so they'd have a better chance in life, those that needed health care were provided that assistance and that public safety was well taken care of,” said Alario.

If he chooses not to run, his hope for the legislature is that it returns to the times when it was less partisan.

His decision he says will hinge the most on his family.

"The biggest factor probably will be my personal family challenges that I have, to make sure my daughter’s well taken care of, maybe I could spend a little bit more time with her, the other part that concerns me is that we are losing a lot of seniority in the legislature, just knowing how to get some things done, and maybe I could be of help in that particular regard but I’ve had the pleasure of serving 48 years, that’s a long time to survive in this business and I’m so grateful to the people of this area for giving me that chance to do it,” said Alario.

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