By John Maginnis
More than usual, the recently ended legislative session was distinguished for what was said rather than for what was done, though it took only a few words to accomplish that. Instead, lawmakers spoke volumes, if not always making sense, but enough to fill another annual chapter of the wit and wisdom the Louisiana Legislature.
“This is when everybody still likes each other,” Rep. Jane Smith said at the opening of the special session for redistricting, before the inevitable conflicts arose in drawing new boundary lines.
“It looks like Mickey Mouse with the ears and the nose and mouth coming off,” is how Rep. Chris Roy described a proposed map his district.
The new lines were too close for the comfort of Rep. Joe Harrison, who said, “I almost have to ask Rep. St. Germain if I can use my bedroom, because I think it’s in her district.”
A congressional plan for North Louisiana spelled doom. “If we lose this, we will be dissected, bisected and ruined,” said Sen. Francis Thompson.
A former judge, Sen. Bob Kostelka insisted on decorum in his committee when he instructed, “Put your phones on vibrate. As I’ve said, it’s more fun that way.”
The regular session began, debate ensued, and metaphors were mixed and mangled, as when Sen. Robert Adley stated, “I’m sorry I stirred the pot for you, got the hornet’s nest going.”
Visiting the upper chamber, former Senate President Don Hines, a physician, recalled when life was easier for the medical lobby, before the pesky new ethics laws. He noted, “If they could give prescriptions for Xanax and Viagra, they could take this Senate back again.”
The university merger issue was rife with hyperbole, as Southern University President Ronald Mason observed, “CABL (Council for a Better Louisiana) said we have to be bold. Well, jumping off a bridge is bold.”
The summer garden inspired Sen. Rob Marionneaux’s description of the construction budget: “What started out as a cucumber now looks like a watermelon.”
Sports insiders could appreciate Rep. Roy’s analogy: “My little bill in the course of going through the Senate got tattooed by more amendments than the Ohio State football team.”
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater’s circumlocutions on the benefits of privatization earned grudging praise from Rep. Rogers Pope, who told him, “I appreciate that, but you need to be on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Former commissioner Raymond Laborde, testifying in committee against proposed prison sales, warned that privatization was going too far: “One of the rumors I heard is that the Pentagon Barracks will be up for sale next.”
“It might be all that’s left,” replied Chairman Jim Fannin.
A real comedian when it comes to gallows humor, Fannin explained why his Appropriations Committee offices were being moved to the State Capitol’s 24th floor: “When I’m through with this budget, when I jump, they want to make sure I am truly gone.”
A discussion of taxes reminded Rep. Smith that even the Stelly tax swap plan of 2002 sounded good at the time. “It was voted on by the people,” she said, “and then we heard the train coming at us.”
The tax-free status of native American casinos elicited the most politically incorrect statement of the session from Sen. Marionneaux, who exclaimed, “The Indians are scalping Louisiana!”
Treasurer John Kennedy gave credit where it’s due, telling a committee, “We do two things around here really well: we study and we spend.”
The state’s past seems ever with us, even when looking to the future, as Rep. Jeff Arnold noted, “This is about moving forward, not about moving back. We have an investigation doing that for us.”
The persuasive powers of the governor was evident in the failed override of his veto of the tobacco tax renewal. “I want to hope there weren’t any threats made,” said Rep. Ernest Wooton. “I want to hope Santa Claus is real.”
Some things never change, or so hoped the longest-serving legislator Sen. John Alario, explaining bond payments: “So, by 2025, when I hope to be back in the House by then…”
Not so term-limited Rep. Tom McVea, whose farewell speech to the House summed up how most voters felt about this session: “I can honestly and willingly tell you that I’ve had enough.”