Louisiana voters have spoken. They’ve rejected the tax and spend ways of the Democratic Party. Republicans now control 66% of the Legislature, unprecedented in modern history. In the state Senate, there are well more than double the number of Republicans than Democrats. In the House, Republicans outnumber Democrats by a margin of close to two to one. Every other statewide office in Louisiana is held by Republicans. Republicans also have firm control of the Louisiana Supreme Court and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The only exception is the governor’s office, where Democrat John Bel Edwards squeaked out a victory by the smallest of margins despite having incumbent status and running in the general election against a political rookie who ran a woefully inept campaign. So, will anything change?
Despite Republicans controlling the Legislature the past four years, we’ve seen big-government, tax-and-spend policies come out of Baton Rouge. Government spending grew 25% over the past four years — growth that includes federally funded expansion of Medicaid that will eventually carry a big price tag for the state budget. Taxes are up more than $7 billion. Tax incentives designed to attract new business to Louisiana have been reduced, and plaintiff attorneys continue to have a stalwart ally in Edwards. Will this crop of legislative Republicans put up a fight, or will they, like the last bunch, cave to the media and the governor’s demand for higher taxes and more spending?
Edwards hasn’t called for new taxes in his second term. In his first term, by my count, he tried to raise them close to a dozen times — and more than twice the amount the Legislature finally agreed to during his first four years. To assume the governor will suddenly lose his tax-raising obsession is pure naivete. The governor still has plenty of favors left to fill. Remember, Edwards promised during his first campaign not to raise taxes. How’d that work out?
We’ll know early on in Edwards’ second term how much of a fight the Legislature will put up based on who’s elected Speaker of the House and Senate President. John Alario of Westwego, a Republican in name only, served as Senate president during Edwards’ first term. He was a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy. Alario went along with all the governor’s tax increases and loaded the Senate Judiciary committee with plaintiff attorneys, assuring the death of any potential tort reform legislation. For all practical purposes, Edwards controlled the Senate during his first term.
House Speaker Taylor Barras, a New Iberia Republican, found himself outnumbered three to one in his resistance to Edwards’ tax-raising policies. Edwards, Alario, and the media eventually wore Barras down, and the Republican finally agreed to more than $7 billion in new taxes. To Barras’ credit, he put up a good fight.
The thing to watch for now is which way the Democratic legislators vote when it comes to Senate president or Speaker of the House. Louis Gurvich, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, predicts the governor will order Democratic legislators to vote as a block. We’ll know who the next potential Alario is in either the House or the Senate based on which candidate gets unanimous support from Democrats.
“A president of the senate or a Speaker of the House who has sold his or her independence to the governor in return for 12 Democrat votes in the Senate or 35 Democratic votes in the House can be no friend to a conservative agenda,” said Gurvich.
Gurvich warns of a call for bipartisanship as a disguise to thwart the conservative agenda voters clearly favored from their legislators. One could argue voters favor a bipartisanship approach to government by electing a Democrat for governor and a Republican-controlled Legislature. But Edwards sold himself as a conservative Democrat, which he is on two issues, abortion and gun rights, but not much else. Louisiana is clearly a conservative state, but you wouldn’t know it by the growth rate of government and the increasing of taxes over the past four years.
Republicans have enough votes in the Senate to override a veto from the governor. They fell two votes short in the House. But none of that will matter if Edwards is able to position an Alario type ally as the head of either legislative body.
Email Dan Fagan at email@example.com.