We’ll admit, we were looking for a lot more drama in this legislative session over issues Gov. John Bel Edwards held out as agenda items. It’s been our criticism of the Republican leadership in the legislature, particularly in the House where there is at least some meaningful spirit of opposition to a left-leaning Democrat governor, that there isn’t enough strategic thinking in terms of defeating bad bills and forcing good ones down his throat.
But as things are shaking out, the Republicans are doing just fine in giving the governor indigestion. His re-election prospects have not been aided by events at the Capitol – not in the least.
Jeff Sadow has a post from earlier today about Rep. Lance Harris’ bill to roll back the sales tax increase passed last year. That bill, as Jeff notes, is dead in the water when it gets to the Senate, but that’s OK – everybody knows, or at least everybody who knows the Legislature knows, that things which die in the Senate at the hands of John Alario and his Democrat (or Democrat Lite) pals there are actually killed by John Bel Edwards.
And like Jeff says, any effort to kill that sales tax rollback bill now absolutely has Edwards’ brand on it since he sent his executive counsel Matthew Block and his Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson to the House to try to kill Harris’ bill. So there is a pretty good narrative available to the LAGOP and the two Republican challengers Ralph Abraham and Eddie Rispone surrounding this bill.
Namely, that while Edwards is running around bragging that he turned a “$2 billion deficit into a surplus,” an absurd message which assumes that jacking up taxes to a level which kills Louisiana’s private-sector economy (over the last three years Louisiana’s economy has shrunk for two years and then grown by 1.1 percent last year while tax revenues are through the roof) is somehow going to be received as proper fiscal management, he had an opportunity to give the people of the state back some of their money he doesn’t need to run the government. But given an opportunity to do that with Harris’ bill, Edwards instead fought and killed it. Obviously, he thinks your money is his money, and he’s a greedy SOB about what he thinks is his.
An Eddie Rispone, who’s spending $10 million of his actual money running for governor in an effort to make a better state for his seven children and 24 grandchildren, can especially run a long way on that message.
And then there’s the “Love Life Louisiana” bill which passed the Senate yesterday and will surely pass the House on a concurrence vote. That bill, authored by a female Democrat , Katrina Jackson, will put a constitutional amendment on the ballot saying there is no right to an abortion in Louisiana. The bill passed the Senate by a 31-5 vote and it’ll get a similar number in the House, and Edwards is going to sign it – because he can’t claim he’s pro-life if he doesn’t.
Which puts him in a position to align with the large majority of Louisiana voters. Except Abraham and Rispone are both ardently pro-life as well – there is no political power on the pro-abort side in this state. But there are pro-abort voters, basically all of whom are Democrats Edwards needs to turn out this fall.
And some of them are beginning to grumble. As an example, we found this comment at Edwards’ campaign FB page…
The real backside exposure here could be if somebody from the pro-abort side were to get mad enough at Edwards to actually run against him. It wouldn’t be someone with any particular stature or resume to be a significant threat to beat him, but Edwards’ strategy is to try to win the election on Oct. 12 without a runoff through massive turnout of Democrat voters – because once Abraham and Rispone’s voters unite around whichever one would make the runoff, the fundamentals of Louisiana elections kick in and Edwards is very likely doomed.
Meaning if, say, there’s a female Democrat candidate running a single-issue race on abortion and how The Patriarchy is oppressing Louisiana’s women – we’ve all heard those arguments by now in the wake of the Alabama abortion bill’s passage – it could easily peel off 3-5 percent of the vote from Edwards and insure he can’t get above 50 percent in October.
There’s more. Edwards has been fighting Attorney General Jeff Landry for months on the issue of the latter’s having joined a multistate challenge to Obamacare’s constitutionality, an effort which has already borne fruit due to a federal judge in Texas ruling that the Affordable Care Act is void. There is a better-than-even chance that ruling will be upheld at the Supreme Court, and Edwards has been screaming that Landry will be responsible for putting hundreds of thousands of people with pre-existing medical conditions on the street without health insurance. That’s a dumb argument, of course, because if Obamacare is unconstitutional that result would happen with or without Landry’s participation in the multistate lawsuit. But Landry and Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon got together with House Speaker Taylor Barras, House Insurance Committee chairman Kirk Talbot and Senate Health and Welfare Committee chair Fred Mills to put together a bill that would address those with pre-existing conditions, and that bill is flying through the legislature despite Edwards carping at every stage. Yesterday Block got in a rather heated argument with Landry at the witness table in the House Insurance Committee, and Landry clearly got the better of the governor’s man.
So now Edwards has announced a “task force” to solve the problem. Which is fine, but he looks small for griping as Landry’s bill moves toward unanimous passage (there hasn’t been a single vote against it yet, if we remember correctly).
And then there is the car insurance/tort reform bill authored by Talbot which Edwards killed in the Senate Judiciary A committee. We’ve talked at length about that bill and what a headache it is for Edwards and his fellow trial lawyers – their position is that the tort reforms in that bill won’t do anything to lower insurance rates in the state but all of the reforms in the bill would bring Louisiana tort law in line with the vast majority of other states all of which have lower rates than we do. Talbot’s side has the simpler argument, especially when billboards all over Louisiana are speckled with trial lawyers promising riches to victims of car accidents and virtually everyone in the state is getting irritated by it.
Edwards doesn’t want to have to veto that bill, which is why he was delighted to see Jud A bury it for him. Except yesterday Talbot’s bill was grafted onto a piece of legislation that blew into his Insurance Committee from the Senate, and what was HB 372 is now SB 212. That bill has already been through Jud A, so if the House passes it you’ll get a floor fight on tort reform in the Senate – which is exactly what Edwards doesn’t want. Proponents of the bill think there’s even a path to a majority in favor of that bill on the Senate side, and if they’re right Edwards would have to veto the bill and thus become the face of the least-affordable car insurance in America in an election year.
The main obstacle to SB 212 is likely the House staff. The Clerk of the House Butch Speer is reportedly objecting to the amendment of Talbot’s bill onto SB 212 on the basis that the amendment is not germane to the bill, which had to do with the licensing of commercial vehicles. But there’s an argument to be made that since the effect of the bill is intended to be to make commercial vehicles (along with all others) easier to insure it definitely hits the broader topic, and in any event House Speaker Taylor Barras will make that decision. And since Speer is on the way out after this session, Barras is termed out of the House and there isn’t any danger the bill becomes law thanks to a sure veto from Edwards, the bet here is the amendment will stand.
There are a few other bills moving through the legislature which can give Edwards headaches. He lost control of the teacher pay raise, as the House took his idea for a $1000 increase and trumped him with a $1200 increase, then fought him on a $39 million funding increase for local school bureaucrats he wanted – which (1) drags the issue into the weeds and removes it as a topic voters will care about this fall, and (2) robs Edwards of the credit for a teacher pay raise since House Republicans actually gave away even more goodies than he did. He also got nowhere with efforts at “equal pay” and a minimum wage increase, two other items he promised to fight for.
We might have liked to see more floor scrimmages and a legislative session which thoroughly exposed the governor as either irrelevant or out of touch. But so far, this ain’t bad for the governor’s opponents. He’s come out largely worse on all the major issues even when he’s set to win the legislative fight.