Senate President Page Cortez on Wednesday endorsed having the Louisiana Senate continue to confirm appointees to boards and commissions in secret and admonished his colleagues for disclosing the controversial moves by a New Orleans state senator during a secret session two weeks ago.
"It is a privilege to serve in the Senate, but it's also a requirement to follow the rules," he told senators.
Cortez, R-Lafayette, made his comments a week after The Advocate/Times-Picayune caused an uproar by reporting that state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson had blocked the confirmation of two highly regarded officials appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Peterson’s move forced two key officials – Ronnie Jones, chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, and Walt Leger III, chairman of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans – to step down from their jobs.
Her decision generated controversy both because the two were State Capitol veterans – Jones had been in the job for seven years and Leger had served in the state House for 12 years – and because she took on Edwards, the state’s best-known Democrat. Peterson chairs the Louisiana Democratic Party.
Peterson has refused to explain why she ousted Jones, Leger and four lesser-known appointees.
Last week, Edwards said he had subsequently discussed Peterson’s action with her, but he declined to provide details.
Edwards replaced Jones with Mike Noel, a senior official with Louisiana State Police who had headed the agency’s gaming enforcement division for eight years. The Senate will have to confirm Noel next year.
Peterson’s surprise attack shined a spotlight on an annual process that is known only to Capitol insiders. The confirmation process takes place behind closed doors with only senators and a handful of staffers present.
It typically lasts for 30 to 60 minutes and involves hundreds of appointees to dozens of boards and commissions by the governor and other statewide elected officials. A senator has the right to block any appointee who is registered to vote in his or her district.
Just after speaking privately with Peterson on the Senate dais Wednesday, Cortez told senators that he favors keeping the practice.
“There is a reason why we do it,” Cortez said.
He noted to his colleagues that confirming appointees in secret dates to at least the adoption of the 1974 constitution. He said that 20 senators – a simple majority in the 39-member Senate – could vote to end it.