Gov. Bobby Jindal formally threw his support Wednesday behind state Rep. Chuck Kleckley for the coveted role of House speaker.
“Chuck is a true conservative. He’s going to be speaker for all Louisianans,” Jindal said during an afternoon press conference at the Governor’s Mansion.
Not everyone is happy with Jindal’s choice or with his involvement in legislative leadership races.
The House will choose a speaker in January. Traditionally, lawmakers vote on the governor’s choice.
State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, accused Jindal of violating the spirit of the state constitution by trying to influence legislators’ decisions.
Robideaux wants legislators to choose between him and Kleckley, instead of automatically lining up behind the governor’s choice.
Even if he loses, he said he will be giving legislators leverage with the governor, who is withholding decisions on most committee assignments.
“I’m giving everyone the leverage to demand to be treated fairly by the governor,” Robideaux said.
State Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, said he tried to pin down the governor on other leadership positions that are up for grabs when he met with him earlier this week about the House speaker role.
He said the governor refused to make promises on other positions.
“I’m a senior member of the House, and I’m willing to be a member of the team, but I need to know what position I’m playing,” Arnold said.
Jindal said Robideaux expressed no concerns about his involvement until he decided to back Kleckley instead of Robideaux.
Kleckley and Robideaux were among a handful of legislators vying for the coveted position of presiding over the House and divvying up committee assignments. Baton Rouge Republicans Erich Ponti and Hunter Greene also sought the House speaker position.
“Without criticizing any of the candidates, I’ll just say I think Chuck brings the skills,” the governor said.
Jindal committed to backing state Rep. Jim Fannin to remain as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. At one time, Fannin, D-Jonesboro, was among those vying to become House speaker.
The governor insisted that Kleckley has the majority of House members’ votes that he needs to become speaker, despite Robideaux’s contention that he does not.
If the majority of the House agrees, Kleckley would succeed House Speaker Jim Tucker. Tucker, R-Terrytown, is not returning to the Legislature.
Kleckley, 51, is a businessman and chairman of the House Insurance Committee. He and his wife, Laurie, have been married for more than three decades.
At his press conference with Jindal, Kleckley said he looks forward to working with the governor.
“It’s important for us to have a good working team,” he said.
Colleagues in the Legislature describe Kleckley as quiet, but deliberative.
“He’s a soft-spoken sort of guy that really doesn’t get riled up too easily, but he’s very committed in what he does,” said state Rep. Tom McVea.
McVea, R-St. Francisville, served with Kleckley on the House Insurance Committee.
He said Kleckley is a gentleman who is in for a tough job as House speaker.
“Is he tough enough? He’ll get tough enough,” McVea said.
State Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, said he has known Kleckley at least 15 years. He said Kleckley has his own approach to politics.
“He’s not a slap-you-on-the-back, ‘How are you doing?’ kind of guy, but he’s extremely good with people,” Morrish said. “He’s not a hothead. He doesn’t get flustered publicly.”
House Democratic Caucus leader John Bel Edwards said he hopes Kleckley shows a degree of independence from the governor.
“He’s always been a faithful and loyal foot soldier to the governor,” said Edwards, D-Amite.