SADOW: Agenda Shifts Might Fail Ambitious Candidates Like Lacombe, Schexnayder

It’s no accident that earlier this week a Louisiana legislator made a long-predicted party switch and a statewide official would choose to announce a deferral of reelection. Both relate to the political fortunes and future of Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder.

State Rep. Jeremy Lacombe proclaimed he had shed his Democrat label in favor of the Republican. By the numbers, that now gives the GOP at 71 seats a chamber supermajority plus one and sends Democrats to a dismal 32, of which only five are white like Lacombe.

LaCombe saw the writing on the wall after losing a special election for state Senate against a rookie but solidly conservative Republican, and additionally as a result of reapportionment his district saw its proportion of white voters increase five percentage points relative to its proportion of black registrants, who typically vote for Democrats. Whether that means much in terms of supporting a conservative Republican agenda at first glance seems minimal: with a Louisiana Legislative Log score averaging just over 53 for the past term, it puts him at a lower score than every Republican along with another relatively recent convert who plans to leave the chamber after this year, state Rep. Malinda White (higher scores mean more fidelity to a conservative/reform agenda, and his score is well below both the chamber mean and that of GOP representatives). Conservative votes on some social issues, primarily related to abortion, elevated his score.

Then again, elections have a way of sharpening the focus of a politician. Undoubtedly a conservative Republican would have challenged Lacombe this fall, and that remains a distinct possibility. Casting conservative/ reform votes more often LaCombe might adopt as a strategy to fend off such challengers, and thereby strengthen chances of that agenda’s success in the House.

In fact, it was opposition to that agenda that served as the first sign Lacombe needed to make some change to preserve his seat. Famously, after voting during the regular session for a bill that would have prevented biological males from competing in scholastic and college sporting events for females, during the first veto session in the state’s history Lacombe flipped against it to help defeat that, bitterly complaining how it was a tough vote that Schexnayder had forced onto him. That turned into a self-inflicted would when next year’s version of the bill became law and Lacombe voted for it.

But one act he won’t be able to repudiate, his supporting of measures to facilitate the heavy-handed approach Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards took concerning the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic that through their severity and length eventually cost more lives than saved. Only two months into it, House conservatives recognized Edwards was going to take the alleged two weeks to knock down the virus that proved unsuccessful and translate it into suffocating normal social and commercial life for some time and fought to legislate to check that. Lacombe called that “grandstanding” and a “cause” of “mass confusion and chaos.” Later that year at a special session called in part to address that issue by Schexnayder under pressure from Republicans, Lacombe voted against a similar measure that passed the Legislature but unfortunately suffered a veto.

It’s this kind of record that means a conservative Republican almost assuredly still will challenge LaCombe. And it’s a reflection somewhat of the inconsistency behind Schexnayder’s turn at the head of the House, often pursuing a conservative agenda but maddeningly slow-walking if not resisting parts of it for reasons that appear to have more to do with personal political ambition than anything else.

Don’t forget that Schexnayder won the speakership but in the process not a majority of Republican votes, needing all Democrats voting for him to secure the post, which no doubt makes him throw the brakes on certain parts of the agenda supported by a large portion of the House GOP. The question is how much of this will he bring to a campaign for secretary of state.


Schexnayder jumped into this contest, after flirting with several other options to lengthen his political shelf life after facing term limitation in the House, upon Republican Sec. of State Kyle Ardoin desisting from reelection. A last-minute entry into the special election that first made his job permanent (he had been the top lieutenant to his predecessor, who resigned under an ethics cloud), for that and his subsequent reelection he faced significant opposition. That appeared to be the case again this time, likely related to the travails he faced in office somewhat of his own making, having already drawn businessman Brandon Trosclair and, more significantly, Republican Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis as opponents.

Ardoin presented himself as a capitol insider yet with enough conservative credentials to win both times, but both Francis and Trosclair come up superlative in the latter. Schexnayder will have appeal as an insider, although he only attained that status upon his successful jockeying for the speakership, but he can’t compete on the conservatism front against those opponents. The question then becomes how far to the political left he may wander in search of votes, already saying he’s best “to bring people together” for a job that doesn’t require that to perform it.

That strategy will become much less fruitful if Democrats find a quality candidate (in the context of these times, meaning someone capable of making a runoff against a divided Republican field who then ultimately loses to the Republican survivor). Further, as election integrity has become a more critical issue to Louisiana’s center-right electorate, Schexnayder hasn’t much to commend himself as speaker on that; Ardoin released a list of measures he would back this session which the most important one of which earlier versions Schexnayder did little to assist in passage.

Schexnayder has a considerable war chest to throw at the contest, but particularly Francis can match that and more. He may find insofar as election machinations go that the skill set in finding 53 or more votes to win the speakership doesn’t translate well into winning over a statewide electorate.



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