Arguing that governors wield too much influence over the selection of legislative leadership, Louisiana senators on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted to elect future leaders of the upper chamber by secret ballot.
“I’m trying to make sure this body is as independent as possible,” said Sen. Eric LaFleur, a Ville Platte Democrat who sponsored Senate Resolution 215 to make the change. “This gives us a way to take back our authority.”
Over the course of nearly two hours on the next-to-last day of the session, many senators got up to speak on the change, which did not go through the normal committee process before a 34-4 vote in a direct blow to the governor.
Many on both sides acknowledged the “retribution” lawmakers face when they don’t vote for the governor’s candidate for the powerful Senate president position — both under current Gov. Bobby Jindal and his predecessors.
“We are in the budget situation because of the lack of independence we have in this body and across the hall,” said Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan. “The problems we have won’t go away until this body says, ‘We control our own leadership.’ ”
Opponents argued that the nomination-by-secret-ballot process outlined in SR215 would shield lawmakers from transparency provided through a public vote.
New Orleans Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, head of the state Democratic Party, argued that senators already technically select their own leaders.
“Our current rules provide for independence,” she said, describing several examples of instances in which she believes she was punished for not bowing to Jindal’s administration. “Too many of us succumb to that kind of pressure, but it’s by choice. It’s not because we can’t. It’s a choice.”
The Louisiana governor, historically, has had remarkable influence over the House and Senate leadership selection. The House could attempt a similar rule change.
Several senators said they fear that their priority legislation will be vetoed or projects won’t be funded if they don’t follow the governor’s instructions on how to vote.
“Every member here was elected to office by secret ballot and not a single voter would have it any other way,” said Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.