Thanks to monumental leadership ineptitude, if not bad faith, a promising special session of the Louisiana Legislature collapsed to take the political fortunes of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards out of intensive care. Even the signing of a petition to reopen the state can’t remove the poor odor of the session.
At its start almost a month ago, the session convened by the Republican leadership of Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Pres. Page Cortez looked to make several advancements. Primarily, it could have, through passing a combination of resolutions to commence immediately and laws aimed at the future, pushed Edwards into wiser policy-making concerning the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, made strides towards addressing the unemployment benefits trust fund deficit without weakening the system, and handled matters relative to this year’s hurricane disasters.
Insofar as the disaster legislation went, it got the job done. It failed miserably on the other pair of priorities, and in a way that revived Edwards’ moribund power that it had hamstrung during the regular session and prior special session.
The leges did refill the trust fund with $85 million cobbled from various sources. Yet this falls short of the estimated deficit of $233 million by year’s end, and it had a chance to fill it even more by paring government some $44 million (of which around $25 million would have flowed to the Fund), which it rejected. Worse, it eschewed chunking around $23 million more into the Fund which it instead blew on spending, mostly for local, mostly non-essential, items that looked like the good old days of taking state taxpayer money and redirecting it into the coffers of select local governments coffers held in high esteem by the legislative leadership.
As a result, Edwards can veto some of these line items then claim himself as more fiscally conservative than this bunch, using his vetoes to exert power. Worse still, measures also passed that weaken temporarily the protections behind the fund that solved for the huge deficit it had over three decades ago.
Lawmakers wouldn’t have needed to prevent tax hikes and unemployment benefit reductions if they had provoked economic strengthening by making Edwards scale back considerably the needlessly obstructive measures Edwards has put and kept in place. They had in place legislation to curb his unchecked ability to rule by decree after 30 days and the means by which to force him to sign it into law through instruments that would have, for a period, eliminated that ability in its entirety not subject to a veto. All the GOP leadership had to do was give Edwards a deadline during the session to sign it (even in its watered-down version) and if he didn’t by then to pass the resolution.
But they didn’t, for reasons which defy explanation. The Senate seemed balky at this strategy, apparently a reflection of Cortez’s thinking. As soon as the session cashed in Schexnayder backed, after opposing various past permutations of this, a successful petition under state law whereby a majority of one legislative chamber erases the state of – but in totality and this version does it for only seven days.
Ultimately, this does little to change Edwards’ behavior. He simply can reissue the same orders while vetoing the bill that checks his power in more nuanced fashion. The House majority could respond by doing it again, and for longer, but the point is to keep the less-drastic, valuable parts of Edwards’ disaster proclamation while excising the useless and counterproductive ones.
And Edwards so far isn’t even doing that, filing a lawsuit Monday against Schexnayder and the Legislature alleging that the petition is unconstitutional.
In any event, the session supposedly should have created a new process that checked the governor more effectively, and it will fail when Edwards vetoes that bill. Plus, Edwards gains political capital at the expense of the GOP majority, who appeared to have corralled his leftist agenda at odds with the state’s center-right majority. After a spring where the Republican legislative majority appeared to demonstrate it knew how to govern, in less than a month it invalidated that impression through bungled leadership directly attributable to Schexnayder, Cortez, and their chief lieutenants.