BAYHAM: That Time Louisiana’s Legislature Won Big

For the first time since 1993, the Louisiana legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto and for the Republican legislative majority that has struggled for equal footing with the Democratic governor in running the state they have achieved a signal victory that could change how Louisiana is governed in the remaining time left on John Bel Edwards’ second term.

Below is a breakdown on how the Senate and House Republicans prevailed in the battle to stop blatant gerrymandering by the Democrats to help Nancy Pelosi retain her grip on the speaker’s gavel and the political ripple effect that may follow the Republican legislative delegation’s historic win.

Reaping Success from Past Defeat: Republicans received major pushback when they convened a veto-override session in July of last year related to the school athlete fairness legislation.  And though Republicans fell short in the House of Representatives, that the GOP caucus waged that battle helped prepare them for the certain future battle over congressional reapportionment the following year.

A Win for Checks and Balances:  Regardless of which party controlled which branch of state government, there has been an imbalance of power in Louisiana between the executive and the legislative, with the former dominating the latter.  That a single individual could successfully impose his will over 144 representatives and senators without fear of his decision being overturned marginalized the role of the legislature in state government.  That’s changed now and hopefully the end result will be a Fourth Floor more willing to work with the bloc of elected officials who represent the overwhelming majority of Louisianans in lieu of appeasing a smaller group charged with doing little more than acting as spoilers to sustain his  vetoes, a governing concept that should transcend party.

A Victory for Rule of Law and a Defeat for Crass Politics:  The legislature has the responsibility of reapportioning the congressional districts.  As Louisiana neither gained nor lost a seat, there was no reason to make substantial changes in the districts beyond making basic adjustments to balance out slight population shifts.  That the governor vetoed a reasonable plan, though having not said a word about this all of a sudden apparent inequity during his re-election campaign, reeked of partisan politics.

Democratic activists then went to court before the veto override was considered by the legislature to declare an anticipated impasse in an attempt to have a judge redraw the districts.  Thankfully this gambit was short-circuited by the actions of the Republican majority.

A Good Map for Louisiana, a Better Map for the Coast, and a Great Map for Lafayette:  The districts approved are each anchored by the primary population centers and reflect the primary economic interests of each region.  Creating a map where three members of Congress run along the state’s fragile coastline will lead to increased advocacy on the federal level in the critical fight against coastal erosion.  And finally Lafayette avoided being “drawn and trisected” into three different districts for the purpose of achieving a brazen political end, which was proposed in alternative maps that were tabled.

Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez Assumed a Major Risk and Delivered:  Fortune truly favored the bold. Though Republicans hold large majorities in both the senate and house, the leadership in both chambers challenged the executive branch and succeeded.  Another loss at the “veto well” would have been a blow to both leaders, especially Speaker Schexnayder who has been a target of criticism and vilification by the Louisiana Republican Party chairman over the past few years for not supporting his re-election.  It’s probable had this veto override session fallen short the bland note of congratulation where the chairman did not praise the Speaker Schexnayder by name would have been substituted for a call for his removal.

Deft Bill Management:  Rather than passing a single piece of legislation to redistrict Louisiana’s congressional districts, the legislature adopted identical house and senate bills.  This proved to be a shrewd insurance policy in the event the first attempt at an override missed the seventy vote threshold by a handful of green lights.  In that case, the Republican legislative majority would have had a second bite at the apple supplemented with calls from constituents in the districts where the legislators voted against the override, something that was not lost on wavering representatives.

Stefanski and Hewitt Carry the Load:  Crowley State Representative John Stefanski and Slidell State Senator Sharon Hewitt, who chair their respective chamber’s panel that handles reapportionment, managed the two bills through both committee and the floor.  Though reapportionment might seem to be a mundane matter, carrying that burden was not an enviable task.  As leftist-aligned groups packed the committee hearings and blasted the Republican majority with heated rhetoric that at times crossed the lines of slander and verbal abuse, the two legislators weathered the barbs and advanced the redistricting bills to passage.

Republicans Avoided Getting in Their Own Way:  Louisiana Republicans are far too familiar with the bitter taste self-defeat than they would like, having seized improbable failure from the jaws of near certain victory on a number of occasions.  And as the clock ticked down towards the start of the override session, a handful of Republican officials and consultants seemed determined to “continue the tradition” by sandbagging the override effort.

Fortunately, their voices were ignored, though the words of one prominent figure were inconveniently cited by Democratic State Representative Royce Duplessis in his closing argument to scuttle the override move.  Covington State Representative and House GOP Caucus Vice-Chairman Mark Wright along with fellow caucus leaders Baton Rouge State Representative Rick Edmonds and Monroe State Representative Michael Echols deserve credit for holding their Republican colleagues together by calling for a meeting of their group shortly before the veto session convened.

Republican senators and representatives should be commended for having the gumption to once again run through the “veto session grinder” and ignore the negative voices from outside their caucus and within their own party seeking to sabotage the override.  This was a legislative victory long overdue and of no small importance.

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