SADOW: Consequential Election Frees Bossier Legislators

Persecuted in past years, if not attacked for reelection purposes, Bossier Parish-based legislators saw their efforts flourish this year.

The 2023 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature brought adversity for the likes of Republicans state Sen. (then Rep.) Alan Seabaugh, Raymond Crews, and Dodie Horton, as well as GOP state Rep. Danny McCormick who prior to reapportionment that took effect this year also represented parts of the parish. That’s as they advocated reining in spending, favoring the use of surplus dollars to pay down unfunded accrued liabilities and other measures to stabilize state finances, which meant leaving in place a spending cap.

By contrast, Democrat former Gov. John Bel Edwards wanted to lard up the budget as much as possible in an attempt to bake in larger government prior to his departure at year’s end, knowing as soon as he left office his legacy of bloated government and redistribution to favored special interests would start to crumble. He found willing allies in a legislative Republican leadership of House former Speaker Clay Schexnayder – himself running for higher office where higher spending could leverage him more campaign support – and Sen. former Pres. Page Cortez who wanted to spread largesse to legislators, many of whom were running for election.

Thus, they had to squash dissent, and both Edwards and Schexnayder enthusiastically went after the Bossier dissenters. Regarding capital outlay items, Schexnayder – who subsequently failed in his bid to become secretary of state and instead became a lobbyist for the cannabis industry – saw that several items for the dissenters were removed from the final version of that appropriations bill, and then Edwards went further and cast line item vetoes on others. In all, $140 million in spending in Bossier was excised, although $100 million was for one project alone, the new Jimmie Davis Bridge, promised more of a delay than permanent denial.

This punishment not only excised worthy projects desired by the legislators and their constituents, but it also intended to harm their reelection chances by giving any opponents a chance to paint them as ineffective. While Crews didn’t draw opposition and Seabaugh didn’t run as an incumbent but for an open Senate seat, he and Horton and McCormick did find themselves up against challengers who were more comfortable with big government and who also drew some (for some, big) bucks from those sympathetic in growing government, as well as local big government elites – almost all Republicans – who have colonized Bossier City and Bossier Parish governments and activists behind them to back challengers’ campaigns.

But that didn’t work. All three won to rejoin Crews for another term in Baton Rouge. And resurrected were several projects or enough dollars for them stopped by Edwards and Schexnayder. The $44 million given out last year zoomed to $201 million this year. The new bridge officially had its funding put into the pipeline, long-awaited road improvements around Haughton got the green light, Interstate 220 interchange funding reappeared, Benton got help with its wastewater treatment, and Republican Sheriff Julian Whittington finally will receive money to start on expanding criminal investigation capacity.

What’s more, some desirable legislation previously knocked down by Edwards the Bossier delegation saw through without that impediment in the Governor’s Mansion. After Edwards vetoed a Crews bill that would have protected children and teachers from unscrupulous activists over, of all things, pronoun uses that Schexnayder and Cortez wouldn’t schedule for an override, Crew successfully steered a very similar version into law this year. Horton also had a bill with similar aims, concerning classroom deviation from state standards in instruction that veered into sexualized topics, that Edwards also spiked that the nominally GOP leadership wouldn’t try to override then, which this year succeeded.

Edwards had struck down several Seabaugh bills over the years, but this year parts of some of those filtered into other legislation. On the flip side, Seabaugh ushered home a bill Edwards had vetoed in 2021 from a now-retired legislator that gave the Legislature greater checks over the governor to prevent abuse of emergency powers.

However, new Gov. Republican Jeff Landry didn’t accommodate Seabaugh on a couple of bills. One dealt with the minutiae of city judge seniority, but the other addressed an issue now headed to the Louisiana Supreme Court, over legal permission for legislators to have continuances granted in trials for cases that could interfere with their legislative duties (Seabaugh and dozens of other legislators practice law). In some ways it expanded the protection but in other ways circumscribed it. Landry in his veto message asked to try again with greater judicial oversight over potentially frivolous use of the privilege.

What a difference an election can make. With Landry and a fresh set of legislative leaders all more skeptical of big government, the general fiscal conservatism of the Bossier legislators who had to endure abuse from what’s left of their now-marginalized opponents will have a chance to drive policy. And not a moment too soon, as outsized government bias over the past eight years will bring fiscal stress to state finances starting in fiscal year 2025, forecasts show. At least the right people seem in place to handle that satisfactorily.

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