New term, same ‘independence’: Louisiana’s Legislature considers its next leaders

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BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — Election Day may be over, but Louisiana’s legislators still have their own voting to do.

Republican lawmakers are poised to grant the House speakership and the state Senate’s presidency to their partymates. Their likely move will continue a sea change they enacted this past term, when conservative Republicans overrode Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ pick to lead the lower chamber.

“I’m very proud of that,’ state Rep. Sherman Mack (R-Albany) said at a Baton Rouge luncheon Tuesday. “It set a precedent that the House needs to be independent, should be independent, and for the last four years, has been independent.”

What in 2016 seemed like a mutiny now feels more standard. With the G.O.P. holding two-thirds of the Senate and nearly two-thirds of the House, the question is no longer whether Republicans can take ranking roles, but rather which ones will.

“As a 68-member-strong Republican house, shame on us if we don’t dictate the policy and the conservative policy agendas we set forth as conservatives,” said Mack, one of two frontrunners in the leadership contest.

Rep. Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzalez) remains another favorite to succeed House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia), who is term-limited.

Republicans are also making inroads in the Senate’s highest role. Sen. Page Cortez (R-Lafayette) leads the pack. Current Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego), a moderate who often sided with Edwards on fiscal issues, is term-limited.

Political columnist Jeremy Alford says whichever hopefuls take the reins must share a skill, suggesting party uniformity does not necessarily guarantee peace.

“The ability to herd cats comes to mind,” Alford said. ” There’s more players, more caucuses, and to bring those folks together just for 70 votes on a bill on one thing, but for the next leader of the entire chamber is another.”

Edwards has said he supports legislators choosing their own leaders, though he has drawn a line in recent remarks.

“If they want independence, that’s great, but obstructionism and independence are not the same thing,” Edwards told reporters inside his executive mansion shortly after his reelection.

Lawmakers could appoint their chamber chiefs as early as Jan. 13, the day Edwards takes his second oath of office.

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