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Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --Gov. John Bel Edwards Shares humor with Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, right, after the Senate passed the full spending bill on the last day of the second special second legislative session.

Patrick Dennis

If Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has any chance to win re-election, Republicans-in-name-only such as state Senate President John Alario and state Rep. Rob Shadoin must continue to have his back.

Many elected state Democrats have adopted a strategy of appearing conservative on social issues to offset their visibly statist sympathies. This formula worked to elect Edwards, who campaigned for bigger government and more economic regulation while expressing support for traditional religious views and law and order.

While Edwards attempts to display conservative credentials, he also courts support in his party’s liberal urban strongholds. By currying the favor of local elites, especially in Louisiana’s largest cities, which are all run by Democrats, Edwards can recruit them to deliver votes for him in 2019.

But the balancing act necessary to appear as one thing while doing another can put Edwards on the defensive. The trick is to ensure that conservative legislation the public supports but his allies oppose never reaches his desk.

In this task, Alario has proved invaluable. As a chamber leader, he holds great power over the fate of legislation because he decides both committee membership and to which panels bills go. For instance, even though the Senate Judiciary B and Judiciary C committees have identical jurisdictions, while C has a Republican majority reflecting the Senate’s partisan composition, Alario put a supermajority of Democrats on B.

Addressing human trafficking concerns, Edwards signed a law last year barring those younger than 21 from working as strippers. A court then ruled it invalid. This year, GOP B committee member state Sen. Ronnie Johns tried to correct the law's shortcomings by submitting SB 144, which religious-based organizations backed.

But while the 2016 version went to the GOP-dominated C committee, Alario sent this year's bill to the majority Democrat B panel. There, state Sen. J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat, shilled for socially liberal special interests, including club owners, by having his colleagues swap out the age limit for an unwieldy human trafficking education requirement for employees of many businesses. Although Edwards traveled all the way to Rome to support Catholic efforts against trafficking, he tacitly permitted the committee’s gutting of the age requirement.

Alario’s diversion trick worked again with House Bill 676, which would have prohibited local government from carrying out sanctuary policies that violate federal law. Even though the majorities of voting House Republicans and Democrats backed it, Judiciary B killed this legislation, which Edwards said troubled him despite his stated views on law and order.

For other matters, Alario bent Senate rules. Though measures aimed at protecting Confederate monuments should go to the Education Committee that has a Republican majority, he instead routed the bills to the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee with a Democratic majority. Last week, Democrats on that panel sidelined two such bills.

If Alario’s magical assignment powers can’t come to Edwards’ rescue, the governor has other RINO allies who can step up. In a vote evenly divided by party in the House Commerce Committee, only Shadoin broke partisan ranks as the decisive vote defeating SB 162. That bill would have prevented local governments from mandating that landlords of newly built, multifamily housing offer some units at below-market rates for low-income renters. Democrat-led city administrations have voiced interest in such ordinances.

These tactics stopped measures this session that likely both chambers would have passed, which prevented Edwards from having to cast vetoes that could further erode his cover as a social conservative.

Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics, www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation in it at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email jeffsadowtheadvocate@yahoo.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.