BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — After five decades at the center of every important political deal in Louisiana, Senate President John Alario on Friday gave the speech no one ever expected to hear: his farewell to the Louisiana Legislature that he has grown to define.

But no one's quite sure if Alario's really leaving.

Term limits will force the Senate president, a legendary figure in Louisiana politics who has served as a state lawmaker since 1972, out of the Senate in 2020. Decades of Louisiana's elected leaders filled the Senate chamber Friday to honor a man who has served as both House speaker and Senate president, each job twice.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and former Gov. Edwin Edwards joined a chamber packed with former House speakers and Senate presidents, current and ex-statewide elected officials, state Supreme Court justices and others who worked with Alario over his decades in office. The room was jam-packed with extra chairs, but people had to spill into the balcony to watch a man recount 12 consecutive terms as a lawmaker.

But Alario, 75, remained coy about the unanswered question lingering throughout the room: Now that his 12 years in the Senate are nearly over, will he run in the fall to return to his former House seat?

The Senate president didn't answer, but jokingly offered campaign songs themed for either option: Bobby Bare's "Detroit City," with the lyrics "I want to go home. Oh, how I want to go home," and Merle Haggard's "Take Me Back and Try Me One More Time."

Alario — who started his legislative tenure representing Westwego as a Democrat and now is a Republican — has worked closely with nearly every governor whose tenure overlapped his own. The two Democratic governors who bookended his tenure, Edwin Edwards and John Bel Edwards, praised Alario after his speech.

"My command of the English language is insufficient to convey just what you have meant to this state," said John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who has seen his agenda and budget priorities often shepherded by Alario, despite the different party registrations.

Edwin Edwards, 91, described his admiration of Alario and joked: "I never thought I'd live long enough to see him when he wasn't running the Legislature."

Alario called the scene humbling and repeatedly choked up as he delivered a 30-minute speech peppered with stories of his childhood, campaigns, family life and time in office. He noted when he started in the House 48 years ago, he was one of 60 new members.

"I'm not worried about term limits," he said. "There are some good people who are going to follow behind us."

He just didn't say precisely if he expects to be leaving the Senate chamber — or the whole building. He'll have to answer that question by early August, when the candidate sign-up period for fall elections will be held.