Lately it seems as if everyone in Capitoland will have something to prove when the Louisiana Legislature convenes its first regular session of the term on March 9. Then again, folks who spend or make money on the mechanics of Baton Rouge’s tallest-in-the-nation Capitol building almost always have something to prove. So there’s nothing new there.
This term-opening session, however, will stand apart from others for just how broadly that make-an-impression strategy could be applied across political demographics. From reporters and lobbyists to lawmakers and the administration, hustlers and heavies will he huddled in nearly every corner of the building clamoring for attention and footing.
To label this term (not yet a month old) as one of great change would be cliche at worst and instructional at best. Revamped news organizations have added feet to the beat and a huge wave of freshman legislators has hit the shores on both sides of Memorial Hall. A second-term governor who’s serious about policy (and his own place in history books) is on the hunt for wins and newly formed government relations firms are on the prowl to help, hinder or stay the heck out of the way.
The regular session that kicks off in roughly a month will be the first covered gavel-to-gavel by reporters since The Advocate purchased The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com. The merger of banners has infused The Advocate’s Capitol bureau with extra resources, which contrasts starkly against the backdrop of other newsrooms suffering from cutbacks.
Fresh competition has surfaced as well in the form of free wire services from the likes of The Manship School News Service and The Center Square. For any reporter whose byline appears in more than one paper (this scribe included), and whose pay is connected indirectly or directly to volume or syndication, this is a trend worth tracking, especially if it leads to a consolidation of state government news.
From the perspective of the lobbying corps, some government relations pros have splintered from larger teams to create smaller, boutique shops to wield influence at the Capitol. For example, lobbyists Chris Coulon, Alisha Duhon and Robert Lancon recently left Adams & Reese to form Pivotal GR Solutions. Additionally, after nearly 15 years of representing PhRMA, lobbyist Pete Martinez has taken his trade to Martinez Strategic Alliances, a venture with his wife, Ginny Hammett Martinez.
Term limits in the Legislature and a rise in state-level activism have created a need for enhanced representation at the Capitol for corporations and special interests. Lobbyists will be in a rush to understand how the new makeup of the House and Senate could swing key votes or shape issues, so more than a bit of flexing should be expected.
Speaking of term limits, there are dozens of new legislators in both chambers, serving on committees for the first time, trying to find out where the bathrooms are located and generally assimilating to an environment that doesn’t standstill. Few envy the world new lawmakers are entering—the party apparatuses aren’t what they used to be; other elected officials and special interests are playing hardball like never before, presenting competition for the parties and confusion for everyone else; and leadership votes have created dividing lines that will likely last the term.
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration, beginning its second term now, will be eager to set the right tone, too. While it has the ability to stand on precedent from its first term, this go around Memorial Hall represents a fresh start. It’ll be interesting to see if Edwards, a Democrat, chooses to govern differently with a supermajority of Republicans in the Senate and a near supermajority in the House.
So, yes, a lot of folks will certainly have something to prove when the regular session begins in roughly a month. The policymaking gathering, as noteworthy as it will be, may have snuck up on a few of us, what with LSU’s national championship win and the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump and the start of crawfish season (they’re small but delicious). It was all too easy to be blinded by the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras and the State of Union.
But now it’s time to pay attention. If nothing else, the pomp and pageantry and politics will be worth your time and effort.