Gov. John Bel Edwards smiled a lot but wasn’t happy Thursday morning as he schmoozed his way around the lobby outside the public dining room — the town square of the State Capitol.

When asked how his meeting with House Republicans went — they were talking about what to do with the budget — Edwards told The Advocate: “They say they’ll let the process work and see where things end up. That’s the antithesis of a plan.”


Maybe, but it’s also the new reality.

House Republican leaders say they can no longer go behind closed doors and make agreements that bind their entire 60-member majority in the 105-seat body.

“I will never be able to walk in and say, ‘Governor, I can guarantee this is going to happen’,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, said that afternoon, waving his hand at representatives roaming the chamber, talking with colleagues and lobbyists to the background music of the clerk droning through Thursday’s agenda.

“This is the part that is different, in a good way: I have to be able to go back to members, the Speaker has to be able to go back to members, Lance (Harris, the majority leader) has to go back to members and … get buy-in from everybody,” Henry said. “Then, we go back to the governor and say, ‘Look, on the 10 things that you wanted, it looks like the majority of the members are OK with half or seven out of 10, whatever it might be. We negotiate back and forth that way.”

For as long as can be remembered, the Speaker controlled the House. The President controlled the Senate. The governor controlled the two leaders.

Legislation was hammered out behind closed doors, and then legislators were told what would happen. Lawmakers who wanted input had to depend on the noblesse oblige of a few leaders.

The new way started with Republican Taylor Barras’ surprise 2016 victory as House Speaker over the anointed choice of the governor, this time a Democrat whose own election was equally improbable.

Barras pointed to the law that limited service in the chamber to three four-year terms. He was first elected in 2008 as a member of the first class after term limits took full effect. Another 23 freshmen joined the House in 2016.

“They were ready to make an impact on day one,” Barras said, of New Iberia, and they didn’t have time to hold to the old rules. Instead, they promoted their own ideas.

“Hands-on is good, but hands-on makes my job a little bit tougher because people better understand the dynamics of the votes they are about to make,” Barras said. “It’s been a great energy change for our body.”

This new independence has caused frustration for the governor, for lobbyists, and even for senators, many of whom moved over from the House and have served 20-plus years, he said.

Both the governor and Senate President John Alario, who has been a legislator since the early 1970s, have complained openly that they left meetings with Barras thinking they had a deal only to find out later that House support didn’t materialize.


Two weeks into a legislative session that must end on June 8, members have filed more than 200 bills that address the way state government raises and spends tax dollars.

Barras says that each legislator has to explain to colleagues how their ideas work in enough detail that their colleagues can tell their constituents why their vote was good. This is particularly important in a fiscal system that fails to raise enough money to pay for all the services voters want.

“When you’re talking to a legislator who is a conservative with a university or a hospital in their district, you can see the grief on their face,” Barras said. How do good conservatives balance abhorrence to raising taxes on the one hand with the need to support their hospital on the other?


So, the Republican plan is to let the measures percolate, see how the ideas impact various interests and the overall budget, then see which ones attract enough support.

“That’s hard for members to grasp because there’s a greater level of effort required to convince people to vote for things,” Henry said. “The idea that y’all think the Republicans are going to come up with a plan from the perspective of these are the seven bills we are going to pass and everything is going to be great, that’s more to the old style than where we are now.”


Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.