When the new term for Louisiana's governor and lawmakers begins in January, state government will be more sharply split than at any other time in recent history, raising questions about whether compromise or division will mark the four-year period.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards will face a majority-Republican Legislature packed with more conservatives and with many of his moderate GOP allies in the Senate gone, forced out by term limits.
The new Senate will look more like the House, where Edwards spent four years clashing with Republicans over taxes, spending and Medicaid. GOP Senate President John Alario, who crafted committees to help Edwards' agenda advance in the Senate, will be gone — and several conservative Republicans with whom Edwards tangled in the House have won promotions to Senate seats.
The governor apparently will have little sway over who wins the legislative leadership jobs, as Louisiana seems to have finally left that old tradition behind. And that could create a rocky second term for Edwards.
The tone will be set when the Republican leaders who will formally be selected by the House and Senate in January decide if their approach with the governor will be contentious or if they'll try to find common ground.
Edwards said he's hopeful he and lawmakers can work together. But he also sounded cautious as the legislative leadership races continue to unfold with him largely on the sidelines.
“The only thing that I encourage individual members and leaders to be cognizant of is we should not have obstructionism masquerading as independence. We had several years of that. It didn't serve the state of Louisiana well," Edwards said Thursday.
Some areas of possible compromise have emerged. Edwards wants to increase spending on early childhood education, K-12 public school teacher pay and public college campuses. Those ideas have been championed by Republicans as well, particularly on early childhood education. The current year's increased spending on early learning programs actually started with lawmakers.
But the two sides could disagree on details, such as whether a teacher pay raise should be across-the-board or targeted to specific teaching types and how to finance any of the proposed spending hikes.
Disagreement seems certain to emerge on roadwork, bridge improvements and other infrastructure projects.
During the fall campaigns, both Edwards and Republican lawmakers talked of boosting financing for a $14 billion backlog of projects, but little consensus has emerged about where to get that money. Edwards previously supported a gasoline tax hike, an idea backed by some GOP legislators, but the proposal never won enough Republican support to gain traction.
House Republican leader Lance Harris, of Alexandria, hedged when asked whether he thinks the majority-GOP Legislature will find areas of compromise with Edwards. Harris, a candidate for House speaker, suggested it's too soon to comment on what working relationship will exist, because he said he doesn't know enough about what the Democratic governor's agenda will be.
“It's really just too early," Harris said Thursday.
Rather than talk about working with Edwards, Harris instead talked about ideas and debates he expects to come from the new Legislature. He anticipates new discussions about tax cuts and spending levels. He also predicts lawmakers will revisit proposals to place more limits on how citizens can access the civil courts, a move that some Republicans argue would help drive down car insurance rates and that critics suggest would do little to ensure such rate cuts.
“I think some very good discussions are coming up," Harris said. “I'm pretty enthusiastic about these next four years with the new Legislature we have."
Edwards has said he'd consider some changes to the civil litigation system, but he's seemed unwilling to embrace the full scope of proposals suggested by business groups and the Republicans championing them.
As for taxes, Edwards has backed unsuccessful efforts to overhaul Louisiana's tax structure — but he doesn't appear interested in anything that would significantly cut state income, after reaching a hard-fought deal with the Legislature in 2018 to stabilize state finances.
“If the impact of that would be that we go right back into annual deficits where you start every year with a cut and you have potentially one or more midyear cuts, the answer is no, I'm not interested in that," the governor said.
With divergent philosophical perspectives and political agendas, compromise may be hard to find next term.
Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000.