Amid the furor over Gov. Bobby Jindal’s backing of Edwin Edwards crony and unindicted co-conspirator John Alario for president of the Louisiana Senate is a race for Speaker of the House the governor’s fingerprints have covered as well.
And with a likely winner emerging, one of the candidates is now screaming bloody murder about it.
That likely winner? Rep. Chuck Kleckey, a conservative Republican from Lake Charles.
State Rep. Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, is Gov. Bobby Jindal’s pick to serve as the next speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives, a move that could catapult the Calcasieu Parish lawmaker into the highest reaches of state politics.
Jindal is expected to announce his endorsement Wednesday.
Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, another legislator who had hoped to ascend to the speakership, confirmed in a written statement Tuesday night that Jindal will back Kleckley in his quest to lead the House.
Kleckley, the chairman of the House Insurance Committee who is entering his final term in the lower chamber, did not respond to numerous requests for comment Tuesday.
But Joel Robideux, a newly-minted Republican from Lafayette (he’d been an independent) who currently holds the Speaker Pro Tem position – which is the No. 2 job in the House – put out a press release howling about the choice of Kleckley yesterday afternoon…
State Representative Joel Robideaux (R) Lafayette, Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Representatives, is opposing the Governor’s role in choosing the Speaker saying that it violates both House Rules and the State Constitution. Representative Robideaux is calling for public, on the record votes for House leadership, as provided for in the Rules of the House and the State Constitution.
“The State Constitution calls for the House to select our own leaders. This is a fundamental principle of the Separation of Powers” said Representative Robideaux. “In the House, Rule 2.3 on the Election of the Speaker clearly states that the duly elected members of the House shall vote for Speaker viva voce, (voice vote) on the first day of the organizational session at the beginning of the new term after new members have been sworn in” Robideaux said. “There are still twenty-one House races that have not been decided, and more than forty members will not be sworn in until January. For the Governor to try to choose leadership now, when one-fourth of the body is not even elected is disrespectful to these future House members, the Legislative Branch of government and the Constitution of Louisiana” Robideaux continued. “We understand the desire of the Governor to select and control the legislative leadership. This shadowy, back room way of doing things has been part of the Governor’s power since the days of Huey Long, continuing through Governor Edwards to the present day. We believe Louisiana citizens would fare a lot better if the process actually functioned like the Rules and Constitution call for” Robideaux concluded.
Robideaux also expressed concern that the Governor’s intervention is highly premature because there is no consensus among current House members in favor of any candidate for Speaker. After the fact, the Governor has embarked on a full-court press, calling members and using his influence to pressure members into supporting his choice.
Robideaux notes that the Speaker candidates who have met with the Governor have compared tick sheets, and it is clear that Representative Kleckley is nowhere near approaching 53 votes, the majority needed to be elected. In fact, Kleckley is likely not even the first choice of the body when comparing the first and second choices of House members.
“I don’t know why the Governor is in such a hurry to pressure the House to accept a Speaker candidate” said Robideaux. “We have plenty of time to have an orderly process that includes all the House members, and results in a record vote so that the people of Louisiana can see who their representatives support for leadership” Robideaux continued. “As a result, it would be irresponsible not to press forward to a record vote as called for in the Rules” Robideaux concluded.
Robideaux certainly makes a good point that with 21 House races still out there to be decided it’s quite early for anybody to be making a call on a Speaker. And Louisiana’s practice of the governor meddling in legislative leadership selection is a slimy one – it has been for 100 years, and every time it happens people scream about it. They’re right to do so.
But there are still two problems with what he’s saying.
First, as C.B. Forgotston notes, Robideaux got the No. 2 job in the House in no small part because of Jindal’s favorable involvement in his race against Noble Ellington. His opposition to the governor’s intervention on Kleckley’s side this time, therefore, doesn’t exactly come from principle. That doesn’t make him wrong, necessarily, nor can anybody blame him for using what is a legitimate argument about legislative independence to push his candidacy for the speakership – but his history with Jindal doesn’t help the argument.
And second, Robideaux has to recognize that after Jindal has thrown in with one turncoat in Alario on the Senate side, politically it’s impossible for him to throw in with another on the House side. And while Robideaux wasn’t a Democrat a year ago like Alario, he wasn’t a Republican either. He fixed that, after touting his lack of party affiliation as giving him freedom to be a pragmatic thinker in the legislature, for the sole purpose of chasing the speakership.
Which, though Robideaux is generally apples and oranges compared to Alario, is pretty much the exact motivation for party-switching the latter had in advance of exchanging a D for an R next to his name.
Had Jindal gone with two party-switchers for his leadership choices rather than folks who were long-time committed Republicans, the open revolt by conservatives would have made his position with the majority of the legislature totally untenable. Sure, with the hideously weak nature of the Republican majority in the state senate Jindal can argue – unpersuasively, but he can argue – that there was no way he could have gotten a majority for a solid conservative like Mike Walsworth as senate president. But you can’t make such an argument in the House, given that in any permutation coming out of those 21 runoffs the majority of the House is still likely to be conservative.
And so the more conservative candidate – Kleckley, who has a solid record on social and economic conservatism – is the only political choice available to Jindal if he wants to tamp down the anger on his right after the Alario endorsement.
That’s tough for Robideaux, who has worked very hard to position himself as a Jindal backer in the House and has to feel that as the No. 2 man he’s the right guy to move up into the speaker’s chair. But political reality is what it is – even if this time it’s not on his side.