What Should We Make Of The Big Legislative Committee Changes?

Last night, after months of prodding by members of the House Republican Delegation, and most notably its chairman Rep. Blake Miguez, Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder suddenly rearranged the leadership structure of the body over which he presides. No less than five of the 16 House committee chairmanships will now be new.

Two committee chairmanships came open when Schexnayder stripped a pair of Democrats – Vincent Pierre and Chad Brown – from their posts chairing the Transportation Committee and Insurance Committee, respectively, following what amounted to a double-cross by several members of that party during the veto override session this summer. Brown had advertised to Schexnayder that he would vote to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of a bill banning biological males from participating in girls’ sports in Louisiana. Pierre was stripped based on another grievance the Speaker had with him.

Additionally, the Education Committee chairmanship was open after Schexnayder had fired Rep. Ray Garofalo during this spring’s regular legislative session. Garofalo was fired for pursuing a bill that would limit the teaching of Critical Race Theory in Louisiana’s schools, a subject on which the entire Republican Party seems poised to deliver a massive wave election if the Virginia results from last month are any indication. The subject of CRT is sure to arise in strength next year, but the Education Committee will have a new chairman to deal with it. Schexnayder appointed Rep. Lance Harris to that post. Harris’ rhetoric during the 2020 congressional election he lost to Luke Letlow would indicate he would be very willing to fight CRT, but it remains to be seen whether Schexnayder hasn’t ordered a halt to any such legislation.

Pierre’s replacement at Transportation is Rep. Mark Wright, who many thought would replace Garofalo as Education chair since he’d been the vice-chair of that committee. The new chair of Insurance is Rep. Mike Huval, a moderate and an ally of Schexnayder’s.

Huval had been the chairman of the Local & Municipal Affairs Committee. That job now goes to Rep. Rick Edmonds, who’s known as a conservative but who has made peace with Schexnayder of late. And Harris had been chair of the Retirement Committee; he’s now been replaced by Rep. Phillip Devillier.

On the surface, these moves look like they’re reasonable, and they look like Schexnayder has managed to reach out to an extent to the conservatives who didn’t support him for speaker.

But Schexnayder didn’t confer with Miguez, or anybody else within the Conservative Caucus, before making these moves. There is some grumbling about that, justified or not.

At the end of the day the only real notable effect here is that the House will now have only three Democrats chairing committees – Ted James at Criminal Justice, Barbara Carpenter at Commerce and Randal Gaines at Judiciary. That’s a good precedent, because frankly a House with 68 Republicans out of 105 shouldn’t have any Democrat committees, and we’re beginning to move toward majority control.

But Schexnayder’s speakership is still fruit of the poisoned tree since it was Democrats who put him in the Speaker’s chair. And until he repudiates them, which he can best do by dumping James from his committee chairmanship in retaliation for the trouble the latter has caused during this legislative term, there will always be questions about the direction of the House leadership.

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