Louisiana’s Legislature Breaks The Veto-Override Seal

It was a mild surprise, but by a vote of 72-33 in the Louisiana House of Representatives yesterday there was an override of a governor’s veto. With the state Senate also overriding the veto by a 27-12 count along party lines, history was made.

The veto being overridden, as our readers know, was Gov. John Bel Edwards’ rejection of the congressional redistricting map passed by the Legislature in last month’s special session. It’s a map which isn’t the best the Legislature could have drawn up. It’s messy – for example, this map chops Morgan City in half for no easily-identifiable positive purpose, and residents of St. Mary and St. Martin Parishes are seething over its butchery of their geography. And most of Louisiana’s congressional delegation – most notably Rep. Clay Higgins, but others as well – are very unhappy with not just the map but the process which produced it.

But at the end of the day, despite a good deal of turmoil surrounding the vote, particularly on the Republican side, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder managed the triumph of his legislative career. And he’s letting everybody know about it.

Schexnayder is openly campaigning at this point for Lt. Governor in the 2023 elections. Paradoxically, this redistricting fight will likely make it tougher, rather than easier, for him to win that race. He’s now going to have Higgins, Mike Johnson and Steve Scalise, and maybe Julia Letlow as well, actively fighting against his candidacy; the word is out that all of them are unhappy with him. Higgins went public with his disapproval; the others have largely determined that revenge is best served cold.

Another reason this might not redound as the career-making victory Schexnayder’s camp hopes is that soon, we’re going to find out what deals were cut in order to pull across the three independents who voted for the override.

Last year, when Schexnayder suffered his biggest defeat in failing to override Edwards’ veto of the bill banning men from playing women’s sports in Louisiana, Joe Marino and Roy Daryl Adams were “no” votes on the override and Malinda White didn’t show up for the override session. Yesterday all three voted to override Edwards on the congressional map. So what did they get for their vote?

White, who was a Democrat last year and switched to independent following her garnering lots of unfavorable attention for threatening to shoot Rep. Alan Seabaugh on the floor of the House, plans to run for Parish President back home in Washington Parish. As Washington is trending more Republican, perhaps her vote to override is simply an attempt to curry favor with voters back home who wouldn’t want to be subjected to a Rorschach Test-looking congressional map necessary to fulfill Edwards’ dreams of a second majority-black district (which would likely slash into Washington Parish), and maybe that was enough to get her vote.

Or maybe it wasn’t.

Washington Parish can do a lot better than Malinda White’s unhinged stylings. It’s the type of place which ought to elect a no-nonsense conservative Republican who keeps government small and effective and who works to build a business-friendly economy there. If all of a sudden there is word of GOP support for White as parish president, or if there are people suppressing Republican challenges to her, that’ll be a bad sign that a dumb deal was cut.

As for Adams, his district was shredded in the new legislative map drawn in the special session and he’s highly unlikely to survive a challenge from a black Democrat. His time in the House is likely all but over, and it was understood by most that this was Schexnayder’s revenge for Adams’ betrayal of a promise to vote to override on the girls’ sports bill last year. So how is he all of a sudden with Schexnayder?

A story we heard coming out of the House yesterday was that Schexnayder had Adams camped out in his office and went so far as to take away his phone so that Edwards couldn’t lobby him, and then Schexnayder had Adams escorted onto the House floor to make his override vote. That’s how far he went to get Adams into the fold. It seems inconceivable that he could have gotten Adams’ assent to such treatment without some serious consideration being put on the table, though what that might be is an unanswered, and quite possibly troubling, question. Adams isn’t somebody who needs to be promised a political future. He’s a terrible state representative and one of the least intelligent members of the Legislature. The idea that the field would be cleared so that he could run for a state Senate seat in 2023 is unappetizing in the extreme.

As for Marino, it’s a real mystery what he would be getting. One theory is he’ll be taking over as the chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee, which is open at present.

Schexnayder is claiming victory today, and he’s entitled to. But he also ought to be offering a great deal of thanks to Rep. Blake Miguez, the head of the House GOP delegation, and Miguez’ colleagues Reps. Beryl Amedee and Gabe Firment, for swallowing their objections to that map and voting to override the veto. Little was done to bring them into the fold; they came across because taking Edwards down a peg was more important this week than getting a perfect Congressional map.

And Schexnayder also owes a great deal of thanks to a Democrat, veteran legislator Francis Thompson, who was the only vote across party lines yesterday. Thompson represents a traditional, rural district in the far northeast of the state which, despite a high number of black voters is a Trump-friendly place, and he is increasingly caucusing with the Republicans. Thompson was a vote for the override on the girls’ sports bill last year, which made lots of sense given the social conservatism of his constituents, but to get his vote on this override was a major development.

While this might ultimately turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for Schexnayder, it’s an unvarnished defeat for John Bel Edwards. The override makes clear that he’s a lame-duck governor, and Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez now have a roadmap to future veto overrides that they can, and should, refer to again and again during the rest of this year’s regular session and certainly next year.

By the way, just after it happened I was on Joe Cunningham’s show on KPEL Radio in Lafayette to talk about the day’s developments…

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