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President of the Senate Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, left, and Speaker of the House Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales attend a press conference after the conclusion of legislative session, Thursday, June 10, 2021, at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, La.

Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder has removed two Democrats as chairs of legislative committees, amid calls by some Republicans to punish Democrats who refused to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ vetoes, which doomed the state’s first-ever veto session.

Schexnayder removed Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine, and Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, from their chairmanships of the Insurance and Transportation committees, respectively. He also removed two other rank-and-file members from coveted committee assignments after they voted against him in last week’s historic veto session.

The move was the most recent aftershock of the veto session, which ended prematurely after Republicans failed to get enough votes to override any of the Democratic governor’s vetoes.

Brown was considered a swing vote in the veto session, which Schexnayder championed in an effort to override Edwards’ vetoes of a bill targeting transgender athletes and another to allow people to carry concealed guns without a permit.

Schexnayder has said he believed several members committed to voting with him before he brought the transgender bill for a vote last Wednesday. Schexnayder failed to get the 70 votes required, reaching only 68 before ending the session.

The failure elicited backlash from conservative circles, with the state Republican Party Chair Louis Gurvich demanding Schexnayder remove all Democratic committee chairs. Schexnayder subsequently said he would not make decisions based on the comments of Gurvich, who is a frequent sparring partner of the speaker's.

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The chairmanships of the two committees led by Brown and Pierre are likely to be filled by Republicans, according to a source with knowledge of the move. Schexnayder is expected to meet with Republican lawmakers in the coming days about the posts.

That would mean Democrats would chair only three of 16 standing committees in the House, down from five.

Schexnayder has faced a tricky balancing act since being elected speaker in 2020. To win the speaker’s gavel, he had to get the support of the entire Democratic caucus, along with a group of key Republicans, many of whom make up his inner circle. A majority of Republicans – including many of the more conservative members – voted against him for speaker.

In blocking the veto override attempts, the Democratic caucus showed it could keep Republican leadership from reaching the magic 70-vote threshold needed on some crucial pieces of legislation. Only one Democrat, Rep. Francis Thompson, of Delhi, sided with the Republicans on the vote, while one Republican, Rep. Joe Stagni, of Kenner, sided with Democrats.

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Democratic leaders have said the veto session foreshadows next year’s redistricting session, where Edwards will have the ability to veto Republican-drawn political maps. Republican leaders have disputed that notion. 

The House Democratic Caucus in a statement Friday said its members were focused on supporting caucus chair Rep. Sam Jenkins, whose wife recently died, and the current COVID surge, but said it would respond to Schexnayder’s move next week. Reps. Ted James, of Baton Rouge, and Dustin Miller, of Opelousas, in the statement called the move “inexplicable” and said it “will make our Legislature more partisan and less effective.”

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Schexnayder, who has said he doesn’t like talking to the media, didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Pierre had irritated legislative leaders even before the veto session by voting against bills leadership was pushing. He did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

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Schexnayder spent this week meeting with lawmakers, including those who voted against him during the veto session. Rep. Roy Daryl Adams, No Party-Jackson, said Tuesday he was set to meet with Schexnayder Wednesday at the speaker’s request. Adams, who supported the veto session initially, previously told The Advocate | The Times-Picayune that he had lied to Schexnayder when he committed to voting with him on the transgender bill.

Along with removing Brown and Pierre, Schexnayder also ousted Adams from his seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and removed Rep. C. Travis Johnson, D-Ferriday, from his seat on the Transportation Committee. Johnson was also considered a swing vote on the transgender bill – he co-sponsored it during the regular legislative session – but ultimately sided with Edwards and sustained the governor's veto.

Brown said in a statement he is “disappointed” in Schexnayder’s decision, saying he has been “transparent” in his position on the veto session from the beginning. Schexnayder met with Brown the day of the House vote and came away from the meeting confident Brown would side with him, according to sources with knowledge of the talks. Brown denies giving Schexnayder his word.

Why did transgender bill override fail? Louisiana speaker says some colleagues broke verbal pledges

“I maintain that I never committed to either side and cast my vote in an independent manner based on the facts,” Brown said. “The decision I made was thoughtfully considered and difficult to make and I’m confident with the decision I made. My priority is my district, and I will continue to work hard to represent my constituents and serve Louisiana as I always have, looking beyond party lines.”

Johnson said in a statement he “will remain laser focused and nothing will distract me from the important work that remains to be done on behalf of my constituents.”

Committee chairmanships are among the most powerful tools at the disposal of the House speaker, who can decide unilaterally who leads and serves on each committee. The chairs can decide which bills get heard and when, and as a result wield enhanced power in the House.

Gurvich, in a statement, said he was "very pleased" with Schexnayder's move.

"While this change is an important step in the right direction, we feel strongly that the replacements for these two chairs, as well as any other committee chairs which become open, must be Republicans," he said. "After all, this is in line with standard legislative practice in the great majority of American states." 

Edwards, Louisiana’s only Democrat elected to statewide office, already has doled out his punishment to the only Democrat who voted against him in the veto session. Edwards earlier this week removed Thompson from his seat on the Southern Regional Education Board, an organization that works on bettering education in 16 states. Thompson had served on the committee since the 1980s.

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