Black Caucus leaving imprint on special session

By Jeremy Alford, Sarah Gamard & Mitch Rabalais

In what House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, called a “new development,” members of the Black Caucus derailed Monday’s planned House votes when its membership demanded that a change in income tax brackets be included in any compromise that survives this ongoing special session.

The ultimatum, delivered unexpectedly according to conservatives, represents a true test of solidity for House Democrats in a chamber that has seen the continuous fracturing of the Republican delegation.

House leaders, in concert with Gov. John Bel Edwards, had constructed a loose agreement to pass a state sales tax bill alongside a reduction in excess itemized deductions and a handful of spending reforms measures that Republican representatives were demanding.

The chief architects of that deal, which included leaders of the House Democratic Caucus, administration officials and the lower chamber’s leadership, are unlikely to favor an income tax boost for higher wage earners, as proposed by the Black Caucus.

Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, the vice chair of the Black Caucus, said the “new development” is actually not new at all. He added that Republicans knew all along that income tax imbalances were a priority for the caucus, and they were incorrect if they assumed the caucus would back down.

“Nobody’s happy,” James said.

Unless Edwards comes around to the caucus’ way of thinking, which sounds possible, white Democrats will be pitted between siding with their party counterparts or standing with the administration to advance the governor’s agenda.

“I think the answer is yes,” the governor told reporters this afternoon when asked if he was on the same page as members of the Black Caucus. “There is a process we have to go through and we are going through that right now.”

The political landscape at the Capitol is shaky at best. Caucus members insist they will not vote in favor of a sales tax increase above four pennies and Republicans contend they’ll never back the proposed income tax alteration.

All the while a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall looms — and the special session must conclude by Wednesday, March 7.

The speaker, meanwhile, opened Monday’s floor debate frustrated over what he called the administration’s “unclear direction.” As the afternoon stretched on, the warring factions met privately, presumably no closer to a compromise than they were this morning.

Even if the House does manage to coalesce around a plan, the lower chamber will still have to deal with the Senate, which has its own ideas about how this session should end. The Senate, for example, does not want to see a temporary increase in the state sales tax structure next fiscal year, whereas the House-version of the sales tax bill currently proposes such a short-term mechanism.

With little to no political runway visible this afternoon, House leaders quietly announced plans to reconvene with the same agenda on Wednesday, in hopes of a breakthrough between now and then.

Werner may run statewide

Democrat Mary Leach Werner, a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, has been receiving overtures from political influencers about running for statewide office in 2019. While Werner has not yet settled on exploring a specific race, there are signs pointing to potential bids for either lieutenant governor or treasurer.

“I am receiving calls and being encouraged to run,” Werner told LaPolitics. “I’m flattered that people want me to pursue statewide office and I’m looking at it and considering all of my options.”

Werner is the director and vice president of The North American Land Company and The Sweet Lake Land and Oil Company. She’s also the daughter of Buddy Leach, a former congressman and state Democratic Party chairman.

Werner was last on the ballot in 2016, when she unsuccessfully ran for the open Public Service Commission seat in District 4. She did file a campaign finance report for 2017, stating interest in an undecided future race. According to the report, she currently has around $1,200 in cash on hand, but has not conducted any fundraising since her PSC campaign. Given her connections, that could change quickly and dramatically.

Political History: David Duke and Shaquille O’Neal

In 1991, the LSU Basketball team was one of the best squads in the country. Featuring the nation’s top player, Shaquille O’Neal, the Tigers appeared poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

But as basketball season tipped off, it wasn’t exciting games in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center that drew national attention to Louisiana.

Then-state Rep. David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, had made a runoff in the hotly contested race for governor. With his well-known past, Duke had become the subject of international media attention, basking in the spotlight.

Increasingly worried about how Duke’s image was hurting the state’s ability to attract economic development, New Orleans businessman Dave Dixon paid for a series of TV spots. In them, he explained how a Duke in the Governor’s Mansion could negatively effect LSU’s ability to attract top athletes.

Dixon’s ads were effective and generated a fair bit of attention, and sportswriters covering LSU began asking players and coaches for their thoughts on the governor’s race.

When approached, O’Neal said, “I’m not into politics. I looked at LSU as a school when I came here. Now if David Duke were the coach and trying to recruit me, I’d have told him to take a hike.”

Days later, a WAFB reporter asked Duke about Dixon’s ads. Having caught O’Neal’s response, Duke said, “Shaquille O’Neal on the LSU basketball team said my being governor wouldn’t affect the state at all. He said unless I was perhaps the coach.”

O’Neal instantly caught backlash for Duke’s remarks. Coach Dale Brown, never shy with his political opinions, was outraged by the politician’s spin on his player’s words. He helped O’Neal draft a statement denouncing Duke and calling the candidate a liar.

Duke, an LSU alumnus, supposedly made plans to attend the Tigers’ next home game. Brown told LSU administrators that if Duke was in the crowd, he and the team would walk off the court in protest. On the day of the game, police were stationed all around the PMAC, determined to intercept Duke. He never showed.

They Said It

“Last time I checked, we broke — like broke broke.”

—State Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches, Matthew Block, the governor’s executive counsel, during a meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee


“We’re working on that.”

—Block, in response


About Jeremy Alford 227 Articles
Jeremy Alford is an independent journalist and the co-author of LONG SHOT, which recounts Louisiana's 2015 race for governor. His bylines appear regularly in The New York Times and he has served as an on-camera analyst for CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and C-SPAN.

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