John Bel Edwards Lost The Critical First Battle Of His Governorship Because He’s Politically Stupid

This is a guy who went to West Point and apparently learned nothing at all about strategy or tactics. Which is frightening, if that’s attributable to West Point and not Edwards’ thick head.

Anybody – anybody – could tell you that when there are 61 Republicans out of 105 in the House and Republicans populate every statewide office but the one you hold, that demanding a Democrat speaker of a Republican House is far too big an ask to produce a good result. And yet that’s precisely the ask Edwards made, and never came off it when it was obvious to everybody other than the Baton Rouge Advocate and the New Orleans Times-Picayune that the longer the battle for Speaker went the less likely it was that Edwards was going to make it happen.

Cameron Henry, the Republican standard-bearer in the race throughout, was within a hair of getting to 53 votes. Henry’s count was as high as 51, and he just couldn’t get above it. Edwards’ choice, Walt Leger, never got to 50 despite what was described to us as some of the most aggressive arm-twisting and cajoling in the history of the Louisiana legislature.

Edwards and Leger went specifically after the freshman Republicans, of which there were 10 who said they weren’t going to vote for Henry. At some point last week, there were a number of veteran Republican leges who sat those freshmen down, we’re told, and explained to them that (1) promising road projects in their districts is a time-honored lie governors use on gullible legislators, (2) those road projects never materialize until their third terms at the earliest due to the backlog of infrastructure projects already laid on and (3) there is absolutely zero money available to fulfill those promises.

One of the veterans offering that tutorial, supposedly, was Taylor Barras, who ended up being the GOP’s Plan B candidate.

And when Barras came out of the shadows on Sunday, he immediately put himself in position as electable. It wouldn’t be correct to say he’s a “compromise” candidate, because Barras wasn’t a compromise. He was a Plan B. If Henry had too much baggage given that he was David Vitter’s top choice for Speaker and there was fear of a Henry speakership as a prescription for gridlock and ideological warfare, Barras had none.

But Barras didn’t get elected as a compromise with Edwards, which is the central point here. Barras was elected with 54 Republicans, one Democrat (Neil Abramson, who most likely got the chairmanship of the House Civil Law committee as the price for his support, which is fine with the GOP delegation because none of the Republicans really wanted to chair that committee) and one independent, Dee Richard.

Meaning while he has the fig leaf of a bipartisan election, he’s unquestionably a Republican choice in defiance of the governor. And owes absolutely nothing to Edwards or the Democrat delegation outside of Abramson and his committee chairmanship.

One figures Richard will get something out of his vote. If so, that’s two of the 16 committees accounted for.

It wouldn’t be a complete shock if Barras gave the other 14 to the 54 Republicans who voted for him.

Typically, the mix has been that the majority party gets 10 of the committees and the minority gets six. But typically, the coalition that elects a speaker is a bipartisan one. Chuck Kleckley, for example, got the votes of the House Black Caucus and thus rewarded them with a number of committee chairmanships. But with no Black Caucus support for Barras, one would figure he’s under zero obligation to appoint any of them to chair a committee unless it’s something the coalition of his supporters picks over and leaves unclaimed.

And this makes for virgin territory, because typically it’s the case that all the deals get done and then the Speaker is elected. In this case, the opposite has happened; Barras got elected first without making hardly any deals on the committee assignments, and he can hand-pick them however he wants.

And he can do that because we have the most politically stupid governor in the modern history of the state.

When House GOP delegation chairman Lance Harris went to Edwards in late November with a statement from the entire GOP delegation that it would insist on a Republican Speaker, there was zero reason why Edwards had to dig his heels in. After all, he’d gotten a public endorsement from Joe Lopinto during the campaign. And Chris Broadwater, who like Edwards hails from Tangipahoa Parish, was on hand at his election-night victory party. Had Edwards told Harris “Fine, get back to me on Broadwater or Lopinto and come back with the one you want – we’ll do a deal and move on to the next thing,” there would have been no inauguration-day floor vote and certainly not the humiliation of being the first governor in memory to lose his choice for Speaker.

And now that his galactically stupid miscalculation has made him all but a lame-duck governor on the day he’s inaugurated, Edwards proceeded to give an inauguration speech amounting to little more than a Democrat fantasy Christmas list of policies that will never pass in a Republican-dominated legislature – a big statewide minimum wage increase, another bite at the apple attempting to force wage equality between the sexes, “full funding” for K-12 education (Louisiana ranks 18th in per-student annual spending on public schools and is nonetheless 49th in outcomes) and achieving parity in public university funding between tuition and support from the state’s general fund. Perhaps he’ll get Louisiana to win the Powerball and apply the billion dollars to the problem and find the money to pay for these extravagances.

Edwards might recover from the beating he took today, but if Barras isn’t going to stand athwart his agenda yelling “Stop!” it will be out of his magnanimity, and not any leverage the governor might have. So in the event Barras decides to assert his own leverage and assert his own agenda rather than kowtow to the governor who lost to him, we’re going to hear something even dumber, which is the cacophony of media babbling about how the GOP has brought partisan Washington politics to Baton Rouge.

For example, there’s the increasingly unreadable Stephanie Grace in the Advocate

If there was any doubt that partisan pushback drove the House vote, it was quickly dispelled. The state GOP issued a triumphant statement thanking conservative activists for calls and emails pushing lawmakers to pick one of their own. And House Republicans themselves made it clear that the move was nothing personal against Leger when they lined up behind him for re-election as Speaker pro tem.

No, Grace never considered the partisanship inherent in demanding a Democrat speaker of a Republican House. She called it “audacious,” but rationalized that because all the previous governors got their choices for Speaker that Edwards deserved his as well. Except when previous governors managed to get their choices ratified it was always well in advance of a floor vote, and there was always wide agreement on the subject. This time there was none, and it was clear there wouldn’t be any, and that Edwards pushed for Leger anyway without a Plan B of his own is somehow evidence not of his own stupidity but rather Republican intransigence.

Meaning that going forward, House Republicans ought to take Grace’s columns bashing them with the same grain of salt as Edwards’ attempts to leverage them going forward.

Today was a good day. Arrogance and bull-headed incompetence were served their just desserts. But the knowledge that we don’t have a particularly skilled pol in the state’s top office means the next four years are going to be a mess when it comes to governance in this state.

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