Race for House speaker well underway

It’s arguably the most important election in Louisiana that will take place after the falls elections end. And the field is growing.

When LaPolitics first surveyed the race for speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives in April, there were 10 candidates openly running or considering a chase for the big gavel. Today, there are now 12 who hope their colleagues will support their bids in what will be an internal January election.

The latest to dip his toes into the pool of power is Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales.

“I’m thinking about it,” the former Gonzales mayor said in an interview. “I’m retired and have plenty of government experience. I’ll be able to dedicate more time to the position than anyone else.”

Also, Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, has been making phone calls to shore up support, according to various lawmakers.

But the most active in the race remains Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who is traveling to House districts around the state and having group meetings with lawmakers by region. Over the past two years he has covered about three quarters of the House with personal visits and his political action committee, CAMERONPAC, which now holds about $50,000, has donated $12,000 to representatives. For now he appears to be the only contender moving money to colleagues at any real volume.

Henry has the support of U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and, as goes the assumption inside the rails, the backing of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a candidate for governor. Vitter, however, told LaPolitics recently he is not supporting anyone in particular.

Leading the money charge is Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, who has more than $72,000 in his Leadership Next PAC. Unlike the rest of the gavel field, however, Carter is being kept busy by a challenger in his Baton Rouge district.

The way his challenger, corporate communications advisor Robert Cade Cipriano is lobbing bombs at the incumbent, Carter may be forced to spend more time in the district during the primary than touring the state.

Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, officially announced his re-election campaign in August and told friends and supporters, for the first time officially, that he would also run for speaker. For the announcement he was introduced to the crowd by Treasurer John Kennedy.

There’s about $4,700 in his Schroder Leadership PAC but a well-attended fundraiser was held earlier this month. Schroder is among the small handful of candidates who lawmakers across the state say they have seen personally in recent months.

Of course, not every candidate runs to become speaker. If history is any indication, some representatives in the field want to keep their chairmanship or move up the ladder. It’s often said there’s no second place in politics, but many lawmakers will tell you that chairmanships can come with dropping out. That’s why many in the body are keeping an eye on the leadership PACs and who has them.

House Speaker Pro-Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, has $39,000 in his Third Coast Leadership PAC and a final decision from him is expected some time soon.

Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-Rover Ridge, has put together $10,000 in seed money for his KIRKPAC and started hitting the road for personal visits recently. Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, has been making the rounds to different districts for weeks and will soon put a big push behind his House United PAC. Some lawmakers have Broadwater down as a favorite compromise candidate.

Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, said he would a leadership PAC in place by the end of the month and will be “in it to win it.”

Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, said, “My hat is still in the ring.” The same was said by Reps. Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport. But neither currently have PACs.

Lawmakers interviewed for this story said they had either made commitments or are waiting for qualifying to end. None, though, said they were holding off on a decision until the next governor is elected.

Several, instead, said their only demand from the race was that the next speaker be elected independent of the governor, who traditionally has tremendous influence over the process. Most of the candidates mentioned that as a recurring theme as well.

There also seems to be an ongoing conversation about whether it is better to elect a speaker who is in his third term or his second term, which divides part of the field. As political as the process is, leadership is a very real consideration with some serious budget issues on the horizon and a new governor coming in.

Regional representation remains an issue, too, with Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, still considered a favorite among the elected class to keep the top job in the upper chamber. The question is whether another lawmaker from the Jefferson-Orleans region should be allowed to assume power in the House.Survey previews legal climate agendaA new national survey on state legal climates conducted by the U.S. Chamber ranked Louisiana 49th out of all 50 states. Capitol players are now leveraging its findings to set the session stage early for next year. Among the proposals already being floated are the elimination of the state’s $50,000 jury trial threshold and the amending of state venue laws to require a closer connection between a lawsuit and the area in which it may be filed.

“The Legislature should prioritize legal reform in its 2016 session,” said Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.According to the “Lawsuit Climate Survey,” New Orleans/Orleans Parish was named the fifth worst city or county nationally for the fairness and reasonableness of its legal environment.

“Despite some modest reforms in recent years, the perception that Louisiana has one of the worst legal climates in the country persists today,” said Jim Harris, president of the Coalition for Common Sense.

The group is also asking lawmakers to improve judicial transparency by putting court budgets and contracts, as well as personal financial disclosures of judges, online. The same was attempted this year but ran into problems during committee hearings.They Said It“Was it at the keg or in the classroom?”

—Gubernatorial candidate Scott Angelle, after being told by Secretary of State Tom Schedler that he met his wife in college in Lafayette


About Jeremy Alford 211 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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