It has been three months since the Louisiana Legislature concluded its regular session without addressing the war cry for a constitutional convention. Sure, it passed a set of resolutions honoring the 45th anniversary of the 1973 con-con, but supporters were hoping for more of a forward-looking response.
Opponents, as you could guess, were just fine with that outcome. At the top of the list of non-supporters was Gov. John Bel Edwards, who isn’t necessarily against the idea. He believes there should be an informed buildup to a convention, and that clear objectives be stated after considerable study. Interestingly, Edwards’ own history dovetails neatly with this very topic, since his father was a delegate in 1973. So was the grandfather of Richard Carbo, the governor’s deputy chief of staff.
We don’t need a roll call of delegates to know that Edwards is right, and his advice should be heeded. There needs to be an ongoing con-con conversation, and that isn’t taking place. Some of Louisiana’s most influential special interests teamed up with notable donors to make a major push during the regular session. Defeat there led to the knee-jerk alternative of trying again in a subsequent special session, but that notion was deflated before it contained any air.
Now there’s just silence for what could become the most important undertaking of this generation’s political class. There’s no longer constitutional chatter spinning around Baton Rouge’s echo chamber. The same voters who lit up social media platforms with energetic calls for reform must have moved on. There’s just silence.
What does the lack of noise mean? If you don’t want politicians and attorneys tinkering with the Constitution, if you prefer the amendment method of altering our charter, then the silence is probably music to your ears. If you happen to think the Bayou State’s fundamental laws should be, well, more fundamental, or that certain articles need an overhaul, then the silence should be worrisome.
If future con-con efforts are expected to persist, the various architects need to put a flame underneath their drives and start a public dialogue. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do. Politically, wounds have to be healed in the House, which failed to yield a single yea vote from the body’s black members. Time is known to heal wounds, but only if the proper attention is paid. Pragmatically, a condensed timeline crashing into uninformed conventioneers would also be a recipe for calamity.
As far as what should be discussed, pick your poison. I recently sat down with Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser for a taping of “Capitol Gains,” a political talk show produced by LaPolitics.com. I asked him if the office of lieutenant governor was actually needed, if Louisiana could survive without this number two statewide elected position. Nungesser made an eloquent defense for an elected role, even though many other states have managed with no such post.
The same question could be asked of the insurance and agriculture commissioners. And the same line of thinking could be applied to agencies and departments that might seem ripe for sharing resources, or being easily gathered under one operational umbrella. For example, opinion makers and think tanks could revisit the semi-perennial issue of overlaps in the offices of the attorney general, inspector general and legislative auditor.
The problem is with the toxicity of the subject matter. Bedrock laws aren’t easy to tackle. Powerful government officials would kick and scream at the mere mention. Horror stories would be presented to the public by all sides. Non-partisan or not, the messengers would likewise take on gunfire.
Do you think there are too many public colleges and universities in Louisiana? Good luck dealing with the chancellors and their alumni networks. Do you want to see the financing schemes for local governments changed? Just try and get past the political blockades sheriffs, assessors and clerks would construct.
Public engagement could change all that, of course, although history doesn’t offer much hope. In 1920, late Gov. John M. Parker campaigned on the promise of a con-con. But it wasn’t exactly a fire-breathing, headline-grabbing, red-meat election issue. It certainly didn’t foreshadow the infamous convention that transpired the following year, or the nightmare document that emerged from the chaos. When delegates missed two deadlines in 1921 and ran out of money just as many times, sure, voters began keeping tabs.
In his inaugural run for governor, Edwin Edwards campaigned on the same issue and gained little traction as a result. Like Parker, his opponent was in favor of a convention. There was no butting of heads or notable conflicts on the matter. Voters tuned it out until the constitutional convention of 1973, or CC73, started to hum with activity and Edwards (Version 1) commenced with an endless list of complaints.
So perhaps we need some friction to go along with an ongoing dialogue. Would that prompt you to take a deeper dive into Louisiana’s fundamental laws? If so, are you willing to share your thoughts with our elected officials? How about attending or following closely public hearings and civic meetings?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you’re definitely ready for the silence to end. If you answered no to one or more of the queries, then embrace the silence. Because if the con-con tide hasn’t washed away, there’s a decent chance this quiet period won’t last much longer.
Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.