The Hayride has learned from sources close to both the House Republican Delegation and Transition Team that Governor-elect John Bel Edwards was prepared to accept a Republican Speaker of the House yesterday. That changed during the meeting between State Rep. Lance Harris, who is the head of the Delegation, and Edwards.
Yesterday, the Delegation met to discuss the issue of the new speaker. The Delegation agreed unanimously to support a Republican speaker and sent a press release stating that. The Delegation also called for the Speaker to be elected independently in that release. At the same time, The Hayride has received uncomfirmed reports from other sources that 10 Republican legislators were not present at the meeting.
Harris then went and took the press release to the Transition Team’s offices at LSU. State Rep. Sam Jones (D-Franklin) and Edwards’s Chief of Staff Ben Nevers had persuaded Edwards to support a Republican for House Speaker, most likely along the lines of a State Rep. Chris Broadwater (R-Hammond). Broadwater is a mild-mannered consensus builder, but sources told The Hayride that other Republicans were under consideration as well. Jones and Nevers were worried that if a Democrat was Speaker, it would inspire Republicans to oppose the Edwards agenda at every opportunity.
During the meeting Harris allegedly bragged that he could elect his own Speaker and Republicans were unanimous on it. Edwards was then told by Jones that State Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans) had 15 Republicans who were supporting him. Jones even called up some of the Republican legislators on that list who confirmed they were willing to support Leger. However, Leger was having problems getting support from conservative Democrats from rural districts and some members of the Legislative Black Caucus because of Leger’s socially liberal views. Edwards decided then, angered by Harris’s attempt to “big boy” him, to make Leger his guy. This account was confirmed by both Republican and Democrat sources.
Because of Harris’s poor handling of the Speaker situation, many members of the Delegation are frantically trying to find a candidate to oppose Harris when his term is up in two weeks. Delegation members were already unhappy with Harris over his aggressive support of the $700 million in tax hikes that were passed last session. The complication is that members of the Delegation are jockeying for either Speaker or to become committee chairmen. Traditionally the head of the Delegation is not a committee chairman.
Meanwhile some conservative groups who still have money left over from the runoff are preparing for action. They’re preparing robocalls and recall petitions for any Republican legislator who supports a Democrat for Speaker. Other sources of money are being found to fund a large scale campaign to support the recall petitions.
If conservatives are going to have an impact on Louisiana politics in the Edwards era, it will require smarter leadership than was provided by Lance Harris yesterday who had his bluff called with a few phone calls.