The Louisiana House elected Republican Clay Schexnayder to be its new House speaker Monday, spurning the lawmaker favored by Attorney General Jeff Landry and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy in an acrimonious public feud.
The House voted 60-45 for Schexnayder, with Democrats backing the Ascension Parish car repair business owner to push him to victory in the majority-GOP chamber, on the tumultuous first day of action for a House packed with dozens of new freshmen. Schexnayder defeated Republican Sherman Mack, a lawyer from Livingston Parish who had more GOP support.
After being sworn in Monday, state senators unanimously and quickly chose Republican Page Cortez, a former high school football coach and furniture store owner from Lafayette, to be their next president–with no public controversy. The decision had been worked out weeks earlier in behind-the-scenes negotiations.
Also without opposition, the Senate chose Republican Beth Mizell of Franklinton and the House chose Republican Tanner Magee of Houma for their No. 2 jobs, Senate president pro tem and House speaker pro tem.
The divisive House speaker vote threatens to undermine Republican power at the start of a new term in which the GOP solidified its hold over the Louisiana Legislature in the fall elections. Republicans won a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate, holding 27 of 39 seats. Republicans fell two seats short of a veto-proof House supermajority, gaining 68 of the 105 seats.
A majority of House Republicans, along with Landry and Kennedy, supported Mack. Landry, seeking to assert his political influence in the House, tried to sideline Democrats entirely from the speaker’s decision, but he and other Mack supporters were unable to rally enough support from the Republican ranks. Several GOP members suggested Schexnayder represented more independence for the chamber.
“There should be no outside influence in the decisions made to manage this body, our body,” said Rep. Stuart Bishop, a Lafayette Republican, as he nominated Schexnayder. “Only the 105 members in this room should decide what happens inside these brass rails.”
The competition grew bitter as the weeks dragged on, with a PAC overseen by Landry and Kennedy running attack ads against some Republicans who refused to support Mack.
Schexnayder talked of moving ahead without Washington-style partisan politics.
“Today represents a time for all of us to begin our work together. I know we don’t always agree about policy. We don’t always agree about politics. But we will all agree that Louisiana has its best days ahead of it,” he said.
In the Senate, Cortez laced his remarks with references to Louisiana teams, calling on senators to work together and find compromises.
Gov. John Bel Edwards had little influence in either the House or Senate leadership decisions.
The House speaker and Senate president have significant sway over the fate of legislation, choosing how to assign bills and picking the leaders and members of each committee in the chamber.
The House and Senate made history with their selections for their top administrative jobs, choosing Michelle Fontenot as House clerk and Yolanda Dixon as Senate secretary, the first time either position is held by a woman. Dixon’s election also marks the first time an African American has been chosen for the job. Read the full story.