Part of the reason why Louisiana politics have struggled to evolve from a government-centric focus to a people-centric focus is an old-school mentality. One such example from the media came into view recently.
For a couple of decades the late John Maginnis purveyed a column on state politics to several print media outlets. Eventually, he brought in Jeremy Alford to assist, and Alford took over the effort upon the unfortunate demise of Maginnis.
Maginnis wrote and Alford writes from the left side of the political spectrum, although typically in watered-down, even obscurant fashion in order to make the column more sellable to a wider audience. Still, sometimes that bias comes out, as it did in Alford’s piece that went out last week.
It covered the contentious House speaker contest, where Republican state Rep. Clay Schexnayder emerged victorious. He had based his appeal on a leadership that would remain “independent,” harking back to the 2016 selection of GOP former state Rep. Taylor Barras. Then, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, following the model of governors going back decades, tried to install his preferred Democrat choice – despite the party having a distinct minority – as speaker, but Republicans rejected that.
That didn’t mean that Edwards was without influence. Over the next four years, a small coterie of his Republican allies kept on the pressure that diluted conservative Republicans’ policy-making efforts in that chamber, and, combined with Edwards being able to stamp his influence onto the Senate through the leadership of his ally GOP former Pres. John Alario, stymied much of the House leadership’s agenda. In turn, other than ramping up spending, Edwards got little of his agenda enacted because the House majority rejected it.
This time, Schexnayder transformed the concept of “independence” away from the governor and onto “special interests” as part of this, alleging he had none influencing him in contrast to his opponent Republican state Rep. Sherman Mack. Which is total garbage; he took in much in the way of campaign donations from outside organized interests – and now after his election where the majority of his support came from Democrats he’s having them raise funds for him – and the biggest outside influence of them, Edwards, the one sidelined last time, campaigned on his behalf. Schexnayder is no more or less independent of outside forces than any other House member, so it is at best disingenuous, and at worst hypocritical, for him to claim otherwise.
Alford took up the “independence” theme as elucidated by Schexnayder, accepting it as the rationale behind the way the contest turned out, then waxed on it:
With a new speaker, a new clerk and enough new members to form a respectable voting bloc (should they choose to do so), the primary goal of the House is to now find a way to govern. Last term the chamber become a roadblock of sorts, in part to stymie Edwards but also in part because it failed to speak with a single voice. There’s no doubt that the Schexnayder-Mack race has created a few divisions in the House that will stand the test of time, but surely there are a few others that can be repaired before the first session of the term convenes March 9.
Independence means absolutely nothing if those who have obtained it wield it like a trophy instead of applying it wisely like a tool. The House fell into that trap too many times last term. Perhaps this go around we’ll learn that the House not only yearns for independence, but that its members know what to do with such a prize.
In other words, Alford faults the previous House because it used its independence to cross up Edwards and his tax-and-spend/escalating regulatory agenda, instead of acquiescing and seeking to “govern” on his terms. Note the implied bias here, that government must set stuff in motion to “govern,” ignoring completely the truism that government that governs the least governs the best.
And Alford whiffs in understanding what the House tried to do last term. Its leadership and a large majority of those backing it wanted to cut taxes, reduce spending, reform the tort process, bar local government mandates on housing, and impose patient responsibility requirements on expanded Medicaid recipients, among other things. But such bills never made it out of the House or through the Senate or past Edwards precisely because of his opposition and that of his allies. Unlike the caricature that Alford propagates that the House wanted to be ornery because its leadership wanted to show off by denying Edwards, the House tried to use its independence to pursue a more constructive policy agenda for Louisiana, but couldn’t buck revanchist politicians like Edwards and his allies.
That’s because Alford, like too many in Louisiana’s media and political class, can’t wrap their heads around the idea that the intrusive, resource-hungry, redistributive-motivated Louisiana government of the decaying populist era has made the state fiscally-troubled and the worst state in which to live. Rather than understand the valid and principled reasons to oppose the ways of the past, they reductively assign as the motive some extraneous attitude such as a desire for “independence.”
Being a “roadblock” is the moral thing to do to make a harmful agenda such as that of Edwards and his allies come a-cropper. And to “govern” doesn’t mean you have to do more of the same old same old, but does include taking action to right-size government by slimming spending and reducing regulatory burdens. If the best the House can do this term is to repeat what it did last term, that still leaves Louisiana better off.