In a historic milestone, Republicans now have supermajority status in the entire Legislature, thanks to the defection of state Rep. Francis Thompson from the Democrat side. Exercising that in fact rather than name, however, is another story.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Thompson created a House supermajority since he’s the only member of the House ever to have served in one prior. That was in 2003 when Democrats had that status, when he had been a legislator already for 28 years after starting at a time when only four Republicans sat in the chamber.
While Thompson described his switch as a product of Democrats moving away from his core beliefs, it’s easy to forget that two decades ago today’s supermajority-maker once was a confirmed big-spending good-old-boy leader of that legislative party. Inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame in 2005, in the years immediately following that Thompson continued to pursue government-as-economic-engine policy, such as propping up a government-run sugar mill subsidized by taxpayers and wanting to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on creating reservoirs emulating Poverty Point (in his district and in the process of getting it built would eventually land his family in legal trouble), as well as supporting squandering taxpayer dollars in subsidizing milk production, ethanol production, and state institutions warehousing people with disabilities when less expensive and restrictive options for them exist. The Thompson of 15 years ago was no fiscal conservative.
Whether because he then avoided departing elective office by gaining successful election for three terms to the Senate where he soon found himself in the minority and no leadership positions comparable to what he used to have, including upon a return to the House in 2019, or he genuinely has converted to wanting smaller government, or both, Thompson has fit much better with Republicans in recent years. This term, his Louisiana Legislative Log score of nearly 87 has outpaced several Republicans over that time, including state Reps. Joe Stagni, (68), Stephanie Hilferty (83), Paul Hollis (68), Stuart Bishop (77), Tanner Magee (83), and Clay Schexnayder (82) – the last three being chamber leaders with Schexnayder as Speaker.
Therein lies the real meaning to the supermajority – not so much derived from strength of the legislative GOP but from weakness of Democrats. With the resignation of state Rep. Mandie Landry to no label, over frustration with the party’s direction that she thinks hampers far-left candidates such as herself, that party has just 31 members in the chamber (although one will join in about a week to fill an empty seat left by Royce Duplessis’ victory over Landry in a special election to fill the Senate seat left open by Karen Carter Peterson’s resignation).
That weakness encourages opportunism for the likes of Republican state Rep. Malinda White, who spent the 2022 session without a label then afterwards adopted the GOP’s but as an attempt to win another office as she hits term limits after this year. White’s voting record looks more like Stagni’s than Thompson’s.
This mélange of House Republicans that go weak at the knees for some big votes – the Senate also has some examples over the last term although some already have lit out for greener pastures, such as former state Sen. Rick Ward, or will leave under pressure from more solid conservative challengers such as state Sen. Louis Bernard, but others like state Sens. Fred Mills, Eddie Lambert, and Patrick Connick remain – is a result of leadership too inept and/or unwilling to forge the supermajorities needed to overcome the obstinance of Governor Nyet, Democrat John Bel Edwards. Significantly, the veto override last summer of Edwards’ attempted rejection of congressional reapportionment worked precisely because the issue revolved around partisan interests; others dealing solely with issue preferences haven’t.
Consider as well that the state’s blanket primary electoral system also devalues issues-based candidacies by overemphasizing personalistic qualities of candidates, which makes holding a party together more difficult with a higher proportion of opportunists slipping into office. This means plus-supermajorities, as exists in the Senate now, really are necessary to overcome minority party obstruction.
That may happen in the fall, as reapportionment and special election returns suggest at least another GOP House pickup and perhaps more. So, while Republicans may celebrate this milestone, little in actuality has changed and won’t until perhaps next year.