But naturally John Bel Edwards is a Democrat and therefore it’s a complete mystery why 20 percent of the members of the House and Senate at the Louisiana capitol won’t finish their current terms. Gosh, why do you think that might be?
The Louisiana Legislature has been shedding members at a high rate, with 15 percent of lawmakers leaving their elected positions without completing their terms in the last three years.
Blame term limits or the heavy workload across a record number of legislative sessions. Blame partisanship or the general lack of enjoyment about having to repeatedly debate budget cuts and taxes. Whatever the reason, the reshuffling of House and Senate members continues, and it’s causing repeated special elections to keep the jobs filled.
Twenty-two state lawmakers have left office since the term began in January 2016, two senators and 20 members of the House. Nearly one out of every five House members from the start of the term is no longer in the chamber, a higher turnover rate than any term going back four decades, according to data provided by the House.
Some lawmakers left for jobs at government agencies. Others won elections to switch to different offices they preferred. One lawmaker died fewer than two months into the term.
Halfway down the AP’s story is a recognition that Edwards has called seven – SEVEN – special sessions in three years in an attempt to force Republican legislators to abandon campaign promises and raise taxes. Surely that’s a minor factor in this unprecedented attrition, right? He calls a record number of special sessions and there’s a record amount of attrition?
Nah. It’s how “partisan” it is at the state legislature. Just ask Edwards’ winged monkey Rob Shadoin, the RINO legislator from Ruston who left to take a job working for JBE as the executive counsel of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries as a reward for carrying his water as a fifth-column operator inside the House Republican Delegation…
Rob Shadoin, a moderate Republican from Ruston, described working through repeated sessions marked by gridlock and animosity: “It feels like I’m aging in dog years. For every year I’m down here, it feels like seven.”
Sure. That tends to happen when your colleagues know you’re going to run to the Fourth Floor and divulge everything they say to you and when you take the House podium and try to quote the Book of Matthew as a justification for tax increases they promised their constituents they wouldn’t support. They’re going to develop an intense dislike for you and you’re eventually going to feel it.
Which is OK. Shadoin managed to parlay his discomfort into a cozy state job paying a whole lot more money than he made in the Legislature. Those leges who actually stuck to their guns and voted against Edwards’ tax hikes? They get diddly-poo, other than to be called liars and obstructionists and to have drainage projects and the like in their districts yanked from the state budget in line-item vetoes.
We criticize the performance of the legislature a good bit, and for that we don’t apologize – when you’re the Cleveland Browns of state government (a cute line we’re going to have to stop using, because the Browns had a hell of a lot better year than the State Capitol gang did), everybody ought to be in for a good thrashing – but the fact is it’s an uncommonly terrible job to be a state legislator in Louisiana.
The pay is awful; your base salary as a Louisiana legislator is $16,800. It pays a whole lot more to be a welfare cheat than to take on a job like this – and lest you think these guys make that up in per diems and other bennies, think again. You get $6,000 in unvouchered expenses and a $156 per diem on top of that $16,800. And while additional items can pile up such that some of the bigwigs at the legislature can make up to $50,000 a year or more, that is a pathetic amount of money for the people we ask to handle $30 billion state budgets and make laws for 4.6 million people. The average legislative salary across the country, in the 41 states where legislators get paid, is just under $36,000.
This is not to say that Louisiana ought to bring in a big pay raise like the one that was tried in 2008 – we didn’t think that was such a horrible thing back then; what we figured was that if you impose the highest ethical standards on these people, to go with term limits, that it probably made sense to raise the pay to the point where it might attract the kind of people who could meet those standards and have enough intelligence not to pass stupid bills. Instead, what we’re saying is that if you don’t want to see these people quit left and right like they’re doing while Edwards is governor you might not want to abuse them like he does.
We have no special brief for Rep. Joe Stagni (R-Kenner), for example – Stagni’s voting record sucks and if he were to get bounced out of his seat in next year’s elections by somebody who’s more conservative we’d be fine with that. But Stagni is a chiropractor in a small office. If he’s not there the place won’t make any money. So when John Bel Edwards calls special session after special session demanding that Stagni leave his business unattended for the first six months of the year, like Edwards did this year, it’s no longer what Stagni signed up for when he ran. And frankly, it’s not fair to Stagni to fault him if he misses votes at the Capitol – for $16,800 plus a lousy $156 a day, the people of Louisiana have no right to demand he let his business go to seed so he can sit in the House listening to Barbara Norton ask stupid questions of speakers at the podium.
And there are lots of others, including some pretty good legislators we’ve talked to, who say it’s not worth it anymore – and the only reason they’d go back is to fight the good fight, no matter the personal cost.
This calculation was never really part of the mix until Edwards came along with his demands for endless special sessions in an attempt to wear down Republican majorities. Create a crisis, then demonize everyone while refusing to compromise with the majority’s demands, not to mention constantly attempting to foment a coup d’etat among the House leadership – and finally, when the heat turns up high enough in the kitchen, lie about your own demands and take what you can get. And act shocked when morale at the Capitol gets so low that the legislators quit.
“I have an awful lot of legislators telling me that it’s not as fun to be there anymore. They don’t feel like they’re being as productive as they should be,” Edwards said on his radio show.
You don’t say. Notice he also doesn’t take any responsibility for those sad circumstances which have gotten worse under his time in office than any other governor.
Of course, Barbara Norton isn’t quitting. Nor is Pat Smith or Francis Thompson. A few Democrats like Marcus Hunter, Major Thibaut, Mike Danahay and Austin Badon have left for judgeships or local government jobs, but most of the people throwing in the towel are Republicans.
Here’s hoping Edwards is the next one of the Capitol critters to go. And here’s hoping the next governor has a little more respect for the political process and the people involved in it to get his business done in the time allotted for regular sessions, at least most years. Maybe then we can begin to restore some decency and morale to the Legislature – and get more sound policy in the bargain.