Louisianans didn’t have to wait long after the start of 2016 to witness what was, and still is, the state’s most significant political story of the year, says Jeremy Alford.
“It happened on Jan. 11, a day that was supposed to be owned by Gov. John Bel Edwards and his inauguration team,” Alford writes in his latest column. “But before Edwards could even be sworn in, the state House of Representatives voted to install Rep. Taylor Barras of New Iberia as speaker. It was the first time in modern history that the body ignored the wishes of an incoming governor.”
Edwards had wanted Rep. Walt Leger, a fellow Democrat, to hold the gavel. With that floor vote, Alford says the GOP-led House upended Edwards’ legislative strategy and created a new set of political dynamics at the Capitol that are still playing out today.
“It shook Louisiana’s political foundation because governors have always enjoyed a certain amount of control over the House, via the speaker’s office,” he writes. “If a representative voted the wrong way, past governors could strip them of chairmanships and committee assignments. But that privilege ended with Edwards as House Republicans decided to act independently.”
Alford notes the legislative sessions that followed kept lawmakers collectively working at the Capitol for more continuous days than any other Legislature since 1812—and they showed us what this new reality really looks like, he adds.
“I’ve read Greek tragedies that had better endings than those sessions, one of which concluded with Senate President John Alario in tears and another that adjourned without a capital outlay bill being passed,” Alford writes. “Rather than making permanent fixes to the state budget during these sessions, lawmakers instead approved $1.5 billion in temporary taxes that expire in 2018. That’s the main reason why the regular session next year will hold so much tension. The sessions of 2016, much like the election of Barras as speaker, also gave us a good idea at what the rest of this current term will look like.”
The other big political stories of 2016 in Louisiana, Alford says, include shake ups to the state’s national delegation.
“Treasurer John Kennedy is now U.S. Sen.-elect John Kennedy and he is preparing to take his place among Louisiana’s premier power brokers. But Kennedy is also going to leave a void at the State Capitol, where he has crafted a political brand as the go-to fiscal hawk,” he writes. “Making a more permanent exit this year were U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who will be replaced by Kennedy, and Congressmen Charles Boustany and John Fleming, who gave up their House seats to run against Kennedy. That’s a serious drain of experience on the Hill for Louisiana, but it was somewhat balanced out by Congressman Steve Scalise’s re-election as House majority whip and Congressman Cedric Richmond’s election as the new chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.”