(AP) — Louisiana lawmakers took their oaths of office Monday and backed Gov. Bobby Jindal’s choices to be House speaker and Senate president, giving Republicans the leadership jobs in both chambers for the first time since Reconstruction.
In the Senate, Republican John Alario of Westwego, a one-time floor leader for former Gov. Edwin Edwards and the longest current serving member of the Legislature, was picked to be Senate president in a 38-1 vote.
Republican Chuck Kleckley of Lake Charles was tapped for the House speaker’s job with no opposition, after months of behind-the-scenes wrangling over the job ended before the holidays.
Alario and Kleckley have vowed bipartisanship and are expected to award some committee chairmanships to Democrats, and Democrats were chosen for the chambers’ number two jobs.
“I challenge us to work together so that history will say of this Legislature, ‘Job well done,’” Kleckley said.
The governor threw his support to Alario and Kleckley within days of the primary election, when some legislative races had yet to be decided. Nearly all contenders for Senate president and House speaker acquiesced immediately, following a long-time Louisiana tradition of governors holding great power over the selection of legislative leaders.
Jindal’s support of Alario, however, created some complaints from Republicans.
Alario, a tax consultant who’s been in the Legislature since 1972, switched to the Republican Party in 2010 after decades as a Democrat, including two terms as House speaker under Edwards, the Democratic former governor released from federal prison last year. Edwards was convicted for his role in a bribery and extortion scheme to rig riverboat casino licenses during his fourth term.
At least one parish GOP group and a tea party organization complained of Alario’s lack of “conservative principles” and his long-time alliance with Edwards. Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter said he considered Alario a throwback to cronyism.
Despite the criticism, Alario is viewed by many legislators as fair, direct and influential. The Westwego legislator has been involved in nearly every big deal between governors and lawmakers for the last three decades and has been a close ally to most governors with whom he’s served, Republican or Democrat.
Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, called Alario a gentleman, a friend and “the best man in the arena.” He tossed aside any complaints that Alario hasn’t been a Republican long enough or that he has too many ties to Edwards.
“We beg you to switch, and then we criticize you because you haven’t been there that long. John has been consistent. John has been a leader,” said Martiny, who had sought to be Senate president until Jindal backed Alario.
To get his leadership post, Kleckley had to withstand a challenge from Lafayette Rep. Joel Robideaux, a Republican now poised to get a prime committee chairmanship after finally removing himself from the race.
Kleckley, a small business owner who has several convenience stores and a car wash, has been a low-profile member of the House since he won a 2005 special election to represent the Lake Charles-based district. He most recently was chairman of the House Insurance Committee.
Democrats were chosen for the chambers’ largely ceremonial number two positions. Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, will hold the pro tempore spot in the Senate for a second term, and Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, was selected to be House pro tempore.
Members of each chamber also agreed to retain their top administrators: Glenn Koepp as Senate secretary and Alfred “Butch” Speer as House clerk.
The Senate contains 24 Republicans and 15 Democrats for the new term, compared to 16 Republicans and 23 Democrats in 2008. The House has 58 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents, reshuffled from the 50 Republicans, 52 Democrats and three independents four years ago.
Both chambers have new faces, though more than half of the 10 new senators have served before in the Legislature. Term limits moved out several long-time lawmakers, and a few incumbents lost their bids for re-election.