You’d think by now the editors at the Baton Rouge Advocate would get tired of sending aging political hack Tyler Bridges out to trash Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras at the beginning of a legislative session, as it’s a pattern which goes back more than a year.
But you’d be wrong, because Bridges was allotted 1270 words in Sunday’s edition of the paper to dump on Barras’ legislative prowess and allege he lacks command of the House because he can’t find 70 votes for tax increase measures Gov. John Bel Edwards is demanding.
Taylor Barras needs a win.
The low-key, genial Republican speaker of the state House, Barras has had a tough 2018 in Baton Rouge.
During the regular legislative session, he sponsored two high-profile bills — one sought by Uber and Lyft, the other by owners of the Harrah’s New Orleans casino — and both died thanks to the state Senate.
During the last special session, which ended two weeks ago, he was outvoted on the final two tax votes in the House — the kind of defeat rarely suffered by his predecessors.
Meanwhile, Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed eight infrastructure projects in Barras’ district in New Iberia.
Barras will be tested once again when the Legislature reconvenes Monday for a seventh special session under Edwards. The goal during the special session remains the same as during the previous six special sessions — stabilize funding for the state health system, public colleges and universities, the severely disabled, the TOPS scholarship program, the K-12 public education system, sheriffs and district attorneys, and the prison system.
The governor, Republicans and Democrats alike in the state Senate, and Democrats and moderate Republicans in the House all blame Barras for that not happening yet.
“It is a total collapse of leadership,” Edwards said at a news conference immediately after the last special session ended on June 4 without the House approving the sales tax revenue needed to fully fund government sought by a majority of the Legislature — a result that led Edwards to call this week’s special session.
All of this isn’t just crap. It’s regurgitated crap from Edwards’ messaging.
Barras isn’t going to go down as the most powerful House Speaker Louisiana has ever had, but he was never going to go down that way. Instead he’s the most consequential political figure in Louisiana politics in the 21st century because he’s creating a truly independent legislative body where previously there was none. Unlike his predecessors Barras didn’t seek and receive a governor’s blessing before being elected House Speaker; he came in with a true majority within the body and Barras has let that majority work its will.
Barras has had the opportunity to punish those House members who have gone against the leadership’s position, but he’s chosen not to. Perhaps that was a mistake, but on the other hand given the constant machinations of Edwards in trying to undermine Barras’ position as the Speaker, Barras hasn’t had the option of ruling with an iron grip. He can’t do anything that would bring on the coup the governor has been plotting against him almost from Day One.
And Taylor Barras’ “failure” has saved Louisiana taxpayer easily 10 figures in taxes which haven’t been raised. He’s agreed to put Edwards’ tax proposals on the table for his members to vote on, but he hasn’t demanded his members go against their principles and vote for them in lockstep. Most House Republicans have voted for them, though there is a core of some two dozen or more who were elected to fight tax increases and have done just that.
In none of Tyler Bridges’ hit pieces about how terrible Barras’ leadership is has there been a mention of how the Legislative Black Caucus has consistently refused to vote for those tax increase bills. Certainly not in the one which ran on Sunday. And yet the Black Caucus has blown up the last two special sessions by refusing to vote for a sales tax. This, despite representations made to Barras repeatedly that the Caucus would be on board with any deal Barras made with the governor to support a plan to compromise on the budget.
That’s a failure of the governor’s, not Barras’. Most of the House Republicans would be perfectly fine with no tax increase and a period of “austerity” – such as that would be when Louisiana’s budget is $29 billion – in which cuts to behemoths like the Louisiana Department of Health are made so the state can live within its means. If the governor can’t deliver members of his own party to a coalition to support tax increases, it’s hardly Barras’ fault. One struggles to understand why it’s Barras’ duty to break arms to generate tax increases amid a Louisiana economy which has shrunk for two straight years and ranks as the nation’s worst.
But Bridges and the rest of the governor’s propagandists at the state’s newspapers refuse to report the fact that the Black Caucus is the reason Edwards can’t get his tax increases passed – and when the Black Caucus continues to block a compromise because, as far as they’re concerned, a sales tax increase is a regressive tax which pays for rich white kids to go to college and for poor black kids to go to prison, those same propagandists will continue to blame Barras.
It ought to be remembered that just because Tyler Bridges writes it, that doesn’t make it true. Never has.