Louisiana House politics are under a microscope

Never before have the Louisiana House of Representative’s politics been under so much much scrutiny.

But with the defeat of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ handpicked speaker candidate, a slew of committee assignments from last week that lean heavily Republican and a set of contentious legislative sessions on tap, all eyes are turned to the lower chamber.

Much of it has to do with a partisan divide that appears to be growing, with Edwards and the Democrats on one side and lawmakers from the Louisiana GOP on the other.

Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, announced last week that he has chosen 12 Republicans to chair 16 of the chamber’s standing committees, giving conservative more control over the House than any other time in recent history.

Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, will chair the budget-drafting Appropriations Committee while Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, is taking over the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Democrats don’t consider Abramson’s appointment an outright win, since he supported Barras for speaker and opposed the candidacy of Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, who was Edwards’ pick.

The governor traditionally has considerable sway over the election of the House speaker and subsequent committee assignments, but Republicans in the House, who have a majority, say they are striking out and grasping independence from the executive branch.

Depending on how this new relationship progresses, Edwards could simply present his budget with his menu of options, which include tax increases, and leave the House alone to find solutions. But he’s expected to be hands on and the imbalance could work to his political favor, Democrats say — the governor will either be able to lay blame at the feet of the independent House or take credit for what it produces.

Reaching 70 votes in the House for constitutional amendments and certain tax measures will be a recurring theme over the next few months and the coming four years. It could force Edwards to rely more on executive orders than any other governor in modern times, but that would certainly water down what he truly wants to accomplish.

Meanwhile on the Senate side, some of their assignments there have business interests and conservatives worried and represents more of a balance compared to House appointments. Most notably, Democrats control the money panels, with Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, over the Finance Committee, which will receive the budget, and Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, chairing the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, which is in charge of tax policy in the upper chamber.

The question is whether a conservative-controlled House heavy on GOP chairs will create a Washington-like gridlock during the upcoming legislative sessions when contrast against a Democratic administration and a Senate with Democratic money chairs.

With the House getting the budget first in the regular session, and taxes having to originate in the lower chamber during the preceding special session, representatives will certainly get the opening shot.Political hall of fame hits the roadThe annual induction ceremony for the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame is always marked, for those closer to the coast, by a long drive up to Winnfield.

While it’s always a joy to visit the birthplace of three governors, that takes many folks out of the picture for the yearly bash. It features speeches by political greats, offers a chance to visit and finishes off with a round of “You Are My Sunshine.”

Well, this year is different. The 2016 ceremony will instead be held in Lafayette, at the Cajundome on March 12, where a few of the new inductees are within close driving distance. But it’s more of a kickoff — the Hall of Fame is going on the road. The plan is to move the ceremony to a different Louisiana city each year, offering better opportunities to attend and maybe even larger crowds.

Going into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame and Museum posthumously this year will be former Gov. Sam H. Jones, who was the father of the public records act and a champion of ethics reform during a time when Earl Long was reaching for control. Former Attorney General Richard Ieyoub is going in as well.

From the other side of the rail is lobbyist Randy Haynie, who, along with his son Ryan and other associations, splits his time between Lafayette and Baton Rouge.

Another inductee from the newspaper industry is being added in the form of publishing giant B.I. Moody III, along with retired maritime executive Boysie Bollinger, former Jefferson Parish District Attorney John Mamoulides and retired Lafayette City Court Judge Kaliste Saloom Jr.

The Chehardy family of Jefferson Parish is also being inducted as part of the “Political Family of Officeholders Award.” That’s the same award that got Gov. John Bel Edwards into the hall in 2014, with several family members of his who have served as sheriff and in other positions. New leadership coming for auto dealers groupSince 1983 Bob Israel has served as the president of the Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association and has become a staple around the State Capitol. But he’s leaving it all behind in June and is making way for the incoming president, Will Green, who’s in the process of learning the ropes. Green, a Union Parish native, was most recently the director of civil justice and employee relations at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

“I’m fortunate to have this opportunity and Bob is leaving behind some very big shoes to fill,” said Green. “He has 32 years of knowledge about the industry and I’m doing my best to bottle up as much of that as I can over the next few months. He has really been an incredible figurehead.”

Founded 79 years ago in New Orleans, the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association provides products and services for its member dealers. Israel has been at the helm for 33 years and, like his successor, previously worked in different positions at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.They Said It“Just turning down the thermostat isn’t going to get us there.” —Rep. Greg Miller, R-Norco, on balancing the budget, in the Associated Press

About Jeremy Alford 200 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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