Enough time has passed at this point that we can more or less assume Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder is done handing out recriminations for the failed veto session last month, in which he was lied to by some Democrats and independents in the chamber and marched off a cliff on Sen. Beth Mizell’s bill to protect female athletes.
The final tally of Schexnayder’s response is that Rep. Vincent Pierre has been dumped as the chairman of the House Transportation Committee and Rep. Chad Brown was tossed out as chair of the Insurance Committee. Two others who incurred Schexnayder’s wrath were Rep. C. Travis Johnson and Rep. Roy Daryl Adams, who lost committee assignments after lying to Schexnayder about whether they would support overturning Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of SB 156.
But that’s it. That’s all Schexnayder seems willing to do.
Rep. Malinda White threatened to murder a colleague on the floor of the House while it was in session and Schexnayder was presiding over it, and then White refused to show up for the veto session, citing some unspecified medical issue, after she had renounced the “D” next to her name. Schexnayder obviously isn’t going to do anything about any of that, particularly when White has a seat on the House Governmental Affairs Committee which will handle redistricting. Punishing White by throwing her off that committee and replacing her with a Republican would only strengthen the GOP’s hand in the redistricting session coming, we understand, early next year. Why Schexnayder wouldn’t make that move, both for the purpose of discipline and for advantage in the coming redistricting fight, we can’t explain.
And then there’s the most pressing move Schexnayder needs to make, which is getting rid of Rep. Ted James as the chair of the Criminal Justice Committee. He doesn’t seem to be willing to do that, and it’s perplexing.
As we’ve written before, Clay Schexnayder was elected House Speaker in January of 2020 by a coalition of the Democrats and independents in the House and a third of the Republicans in the body. If Louisiana’s House had operated in the usual way legislative bodies do, it would have been the majority of the votes in the House Republican Delegation meeting which would have controlled things and that majority would have produced Sherman Mack. Schexnayder refused to abide by that delegation vote.
The problem this has caused is that Schexnayder lives in fear of a coup by the 45 or so House members who voted for Mack. The Democrats have him over a barrel because he knows that if they were to abandon him he would be ripe to get fired as Speaker. With a more traditional constitution of leadership, it would be largely unthinkable that Republicans would overturn their own man and fears over a coup would never really enter into how the House is governed.
The hope, and there is some evidence to suggest it might finally be coming to pass, was that especially after the failed veto session revealed a lot about who Louisiana’s House Democrats really are, Schexnayder would see that his obvious move is to mend fences with the conservatives and embrace a role as the Republican Speaker of a Republican House. Meaning that he would roll James over and cement his Speakership based on a Republican majority supporting him.
The conservatives want this. They don’t have a candidate they can get to 53 votes within the delegation for, so adopting Schexnayder as their leader is the easiest and most efficient way forward. While the veto session was a failure, it at least showed that the Republicans are more or less united where it comes to legislation and the problem lies with the D’s and the I’s.
And if the D’s and the I’s are going to be the problem, then they shouldn’t be part of the leadership team.
Ted James is the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. Ted James has been working to tear Schexnayder down since the very beginning. He’s attacked other members of the leadership team, most notably former House Education Chair Ray Garofalo, and he’s run information ops against Schexnayder aimed at attempting to make the Speaker believe the conservatives were fomenting a coup against him.
They weren’t. Not with the Democrats. There would be no point in using Democrats to get to 53 votes for a new Speaker; you’d simply end up with the same problem Schexnayder has. But James has pushed to disrupt Schexnayder and keep him weak from the beginning.
And yesterday, speaking at the Baton Rouge Press Club, Ted James was back at it. He blasted Schexnayder for having ousted the two Democrat committee chairmen, saying he was “utterly disappointed” in Schexnayder and calling it the “wrong move.”
Then he touted the presence of the bipartisan coalition which elected Schexnayder.
Which is a veiled threat that the Democrats would bolt from the coalition.
There’s a very obvious power-politics play here, and it’s too bad Schexnayder won’t make it. The obvious move would be to bounce James from that committee chairmanship and then appoint members of the Conservative Caucus to chair all three committees. Doing that would signal that Schexnayder’s power base has now shifted, and he doesn’t have 23 Republicans behind him; now he has 68, and there will be no coup.
James’ response to that would be to say that the Democrats will now be nonstop opponents of everything on Schexnayder’s agenda.
But there would still be a pair of Democrats holding committee chairmanships. Those could be taken away as well. And with Democrat Francis Thompson now flirting with a party switch and increasingly voting in lockstep with the GOP, Schexnayder would only need one more vote to get to 70 with zero help at all from the Black Caucus.
Even with the redistricting session coming up, it isn’t all that hard to get to 70. Adams and White, for example, represent districts which went decisively for Donald Trump in 2020. If all you need is one of them to vote for redistricting plans to then have a veto-proof majority to pass them, you can get that by passing out goodies from the Speaker’s chair. Ted James can’t compete with that and neither can Edwards. And Adams, having already admitted to lying to Schexnayder and publicly expressing regret over it, is eager to avoid further negative consequences. He might be the final piece to the puzzle.
Schexnayder has all the leverage. James has none. The question is whether the Speaker is willing to use it.
So far, it’s half-measures. Those only appear to agitate the problem rather than solving it.