Contrary to the popular image of the legendary leader during the Great Depression and the Second World War, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a politician who could be shiftier than Bill Clinton, more unreliable than Donald Trump and more brutal to his followers than Lyndon Johnson.
He learned never to commit himself, or if he did, FDR would cheerfully and without scruple agree to contradictory decisions in the next hours or days. He told everyone what they wanted to hear and made commitments that were written on water. A famous story is about a New York politician, driven to distraction by a shifting then-Gov. Roosevelt, who shouted at him: "Frank, from now on we deal in writing."
Besides the fact that Roosevelt hated being called "Frank," he didn't like the story because the incident was retailed around Albany and then became a byword for how difficult the new president would be.
Who's Franklin Roosevelt at the State Capitol today?
Gov. John Bel Edwards has perhaps the least official experience in state office than any chief executive in years, and certainly little at all in the way of administrative background. Two terms in the state House during the dysfunction of the Jindal years was not a lesson in responsible governance.
While Edwards was apparently a shrewd lawyer, what he knew about power probably came from watching his father, one of the autocratic sheriffs in Tangipahoa Parish, who was not lightly crossed by others.
In contrast, if there was ever anybody who would know how to make a deal, down to the paperwork and the interest rate to several decimal points, it ought to be House Speaker Taylor Barras, a banker from New Iberia.
Now, in the recriminations surrounding yet another special session, the governor appears to be getting a great deal less than he wanted. The banker has stalled and shimmied and punted again and again, yet because of the difficult two-thirds requirement for a tax vote, the speaker feels comfortable saying that the governor has failed to lead.
Is it the governor's fault that he has been had? Months into the new administration, over coffee at the Governor's Mansion, Edwards said on the record that he was disappointed when Barras — as the governor said — had made an explicit promise of support on a budget committee vote and then done the opposite the next day.
The same story has been repeated several times.
When you negotiate with Barras, how many members of the House does he represent? Experience shows it's not the 61 Republicans, because his caucus is all over the map on key issues.
The price of his being elected in 2016 was stacking key "money" committees, Appropriations and Ways and Means, with anti-tax hard-liners. Outside pressure groups constantly hector members to vote against taxes, even if only to replace tax revenues that are to expire.
In a critical series of votes last year, the House's majority — Democrats and a dozen or so Republicans — rebuked Barras and, explicitly, Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, of Metairie. That passed the budget for one year, but it never solved the House's management problem: The speaker is too weak to lead. He is only strong enough to promise to lead, and then pull an FDR.
Did Edwards need to say: From now on, Taylor, we deal in writing?
Email Lanny Keller at email@example.com.
In a triumph of hope over experience, the gavels will fall Monday in House and Senate chambers at the State Capitol, opening a new special ses…