Four years ago, the election of outgoing Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, represented a rare burst of independence from the governor for Republicans in the GOP-dominated House.
Next week, the 2020 speaker’s race will pit Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany, against Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, will showcase the exact same theme—only for different reasons.
Whereas Barras got elected—for the first time in modern history—without the help of the incoming governor, the coming term’s election has many members shouting for independence from a few heavy players within Louisiana’s conservative ranks.
Outsiders have long known better than to play in an internal election for speaker. Just ask any lobbyist who has survived more than one gubernatorial term. Traditionally only representatives and governors have dared meddle with such contests.
That message, however, clearly didn’t make it to U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and Attorney General Jeff Landry, who are using the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority to lean on reps. (The message also didn’t make it to the desks of a few special interests, which are backing Mack over Schexnayder.)
“This election is about independence,” said a third-term legislator, “probably more so than it was four years ago.”
It’s no secret that Kennedy and Landry are pushing Mack, who seems to have locked down much of the freshmen class and cornered the far right side of the body.
But there’s also a strong team inside the rails behind Schexnayder, who has cobbled together support from various factions in the lower chamber and has the backing of many second-termers.
With Republicans at a near supermajority and neither Mack nor Schexnayder sitting on the required 53 votes, the speaker election will unquestionably be decided by Democrats, who Kennedy and Landry have asked conservatives to more or less ignore in this process.
Adding fuel to the fire, LCCM has targeted Schexnayder supporters with negative TV spots in their districts, starting this week with Reps. Stuart Bishop and Stephen Dwight. That political fuel, though, could backfire and serve to further divide the House should Mack win and LCCM intensify its efforts.
Either way, a new House speaker will be elected on Monday, and it may be a messy process. While Barras’ 2016 election will remain a mile marker for leadership races to come, this year’s balloting could set the precedent that matters most.
They said it: “I think term limits was the worst thing we ever did. It just changed the whole atmosphere in the Legislature.”—Outgoing Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp, in the Associated Press.
Lagniappe: “It’s not going to be hard for me to walk away that day.”—House Clerk Butch Speer, who, like Koepp, will retire Monday.