We’ll start this off by doing a little bit of math as relates to the makeup of the Louisiana House of Representatives when it reconvenes for next year’s legislative session.
Following the primary and runoff legislative elections in October and November, of the 105 House members, 68 of them are Republicans. There are two independents and 35 Democrats.
Of those 35 Democrats, only seven of them are white. The rest are members of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Which means that while Louisiana’s voters gave just more than 51 percent of their votes to re-elect John Bel Edwards as governor, they utterly and completely rejected his brand of politics in the Louisiana legislature. In only one seat did a Democrat manage to flip a Republican seat – that happened in Belle Chasse, where Mack Cormier knocked out Republican Chris Leopold in a race decided almost completely on local issues not indicative of an electorate leaning left. Cormier, after all, is the son of former Plaquemines Parish president Amos Cormier who is (nominally) a Republican.
We haven’t added up all the numbers, but we’re told in races involving Republicans running against Democrats for legislative seats Republicans scored well in excess of 55 percent of the vote and it was actually closer to 60 percent.
What does this mean? It means the voters gave a mandate. That mandate was for this state to be governed, as Louis Gurvich and Conrad Appel wrote here a week and a half ago, according to conservative principles.
In the Senate it looks like the Republicans have taken that mandate seriously. Sharon Hewitt, who was the most conservative of the candidates for Senate President, made common cause with Page Cortez and delivered him a majority to be the new president of that body; Cortez got to 20-plus votes without needing to consult with any Democrats, and the committee assignments will reflect that fact. The Senate will not look like it has in the recent past, with Democrats like J.P. Morrell and Karen Carter Peterson and Eric Lafleur holding key committee chairmanships in a Republican-majority body. The past four years under John Alario’s sleazy misrule have been nothing short of an outrage; Louisiana’s voters delivered 25 Republicans to the Senate only to see it be nothing more than a puppet body running interference for Edwards against every item of conservative reform legislation, and time and time again Alario’s disgraceful tactics thwarted the will of the people for low taxes and smaller government.
Alario is gone and there is a workable majority in the Senate to deliver positive change. There is reason to hope a Cortez-led Senate, bolstered by that majority, will assign committee chairmanships and positions to members of that majority on the basis of principle rather than to pay off political favors and grease backroom deals like has always been done. If Cortez is worthy of his position based on earning the support of the Senate’s conservatives, and we believe he is, he’s going to arrance that body in such a way that the Senate is independent of the governor in the way the House has been over the past four years.
But what we hope is that the House does not backslide into deal-making with the governor.
There appear to be two main candidates for Speaker of the House at this point. Sherman Mack and Clay Schexnayder appear to have consolidated support from the various other factions and potential candidates, and are hustling to secure a consensus within the 68-person House Republican delegation.
The temptation will be for one or both of them to pad their numbers by reaching across to the Democrats and the two independents, Joe Marino and Roy Daryl Adams. Should either line up support from across the aisle, he could become speaker with just 15 rogue members of the House Republican delegation. And the easiest way to line up that support would be to sit down with John Bel Edwards and offer to be his puppet in exchange for those votes.
In the past, that would be the expectation of how things would work. Situations like this are how Louisiana’s governor always seemed to manage to pick the legislative leadership – play the partisan numbers game, and then buy off the rest to get to a majority with roads, bridges, drainage projects and the like.
But that was when there was a lot more diverse state legislature, and you had a couple of different stripes of white Democrats with sizable numbers. Before the legislative steamroller of the last two legislative cycles delivered such massive numbers of Republicans to the body, it could maybe be justifiable that governance would occur on the basis of logrolling and dealmaking.
But Louisiana’s voters, in legislative elections, have voted clearly for a set of principles. Winning candidates in October and November overwhelmingly ran on lower taxes, a better business and legal climate and smaller government. That Eddie Rispone’s campaign offered discordant messaging and poor optics and thus lost an opportunity to complete the rout shouldn’t affect the fact Republicans have been charged with steering the state’s legislative future.
If either Mack or Schexnayder were to betray that trust by doing deals across the aisle to secure votes for a speakership it would be an even worse result than Rispone’s loss. And such deal-making would serve as justification for voters to inflict as much punishment as possible on those engaging in it. We speak here of the power of recall, in which one-third of the registered voters in a legislative district may sign a petition to remove that legislator from office. It hasn’t been done before, though attempts have been made, but we’ve not had as clear a potential betrayal before.
And the negative consequences of the outrage Louisiana’s voters would possess should such deals be made would make such a speakership unlikely to sustain. Building a majority with only 15, or slightly more, Republicans while the state’s voters see good legislation killed, or bad legislation let out, in committees run by Democrats means that sliver of Republicans will be under constant pressure to abandon that deal; it’s a perfect environment for a coup d’etat and a Speaker being voted out on the House floor.
We don’t know either Mack or Schexnayder well enough to assess what the chances are that either would entertain the option of getting in bed with Edwards. We’ve heard accusations and denials on both sides of the fight.
We don’t have a preference between the two. Our only insistence is that the Speakership be decided in the meeting of the delegation the voters gave just less than a supermajority to, and not by a lame-duck governor or his rump political party.
Don’t betray us. You’ll regret it if you do.