Last week may not have started great for Louisiana conservatives, but it ended with a bang. Republican Sen. Pres. Page Cortez announced his committee selections, both members and leaders. He said he tried to balance assignments given the demographic composition of the body, as well as adhering to the tradition of giving some influence to the minority party.
However, with the GOP holding down 27 of the 39 seats — and only a few of those in the majority not identified with the clearly conservative wing of the party — his final product has an unambiguous conservative bias. Start with the three most important panels: Finance, Revenue and Fiscal Affairs, and Senate and Governmental Affairs. They all have overwhelming Republican majorities and staunch conservatives — respectively, state Sens. Bodi White, Bret Allain, and Sharon Hewitt — in charge. This stands in great contrast to the previous four years.
Better, every permanent committee has a GOP majority, in all but three cases significantly so. Finally, Democrat chairmanships are confined to the three least important committees, Education with a solid 5-2 Republican tilt, and one of the Judiciary committees but also with a narrow GOP majority and headed by the most conservative Democrat in the chamber, state Sen. Gary Smith.
Practically speaking, this means firstly that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ agenda is dead on arrival. He can forget much of what he spoke about in his second inaugural address. Even with Democrat state Sen. Cleo Fields heading up Education, its members will spike any backsliding of a decade’s worth of reforms. No changes that raises anybody’s income tax rate will occur, and tax cuts will make it to the Senate floor where they will be approved. The Edwards goal of using tax “reform” as a means to redistribute wealth likely has become impossible.
Even plans by Edwards to spend the excess revenues largely created by federal tax law changes face jeopardy with this lineup. These money committees show every sign that they could pursue a 98 percent solution even if they can’t get tax cuts by Edwards, denying him the chance to spend the excess revenues on current operations.
And, tort reform will come. Unlike the previous four years, where Edwards allies could use the triplicate Judiciary system (all of A, B, and C have the same jurisdictions, so presidents can tailor committee compositions to aid or hinder bills covering different issues) to thwart tort reform, Cortez’s choices greased the skids for it. With consistent conservatives state Sens. Barrow Peacock and Franklin Foil heading up two of these, chances are Foil’s Judiciary C will take up the matter as it has a larger GOP majority.
Ironically, historically the Senate has become known as the graveyard of reform, and played that role in spades during the past four years. Now, over the next four years it looks set to become the engine of reform, thanks to some excellent selections made by Cortez, who certainly passed his first test as president.