Every politician faces an internal struggle between the desire for power and remaining faithful to the agenda voters elected them to carry out. Gonzales Republican Clay Schexnayder seems to have fallen prey to the tempting delicacy of power. He isn’t the first and won’t be the last.
Schexnayder was elected House speaker this week, but only after cutting a deal with Democrats, much to the delight of Gov. John Bel Edwards. All 35 Democrats and two independents along with 23 of 68 Republicans threw their support behind Schexnayder, giving him enough votes to defeat state Rep. Sherman Mack, of Albany. Attorney General Jeff Landry, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, most conservatives and business leaders supported Mack.
Schexnayder’s election is potentially the worst-case scenario for conservatives. Especially if he becomes the new John Alario for Edwards in his second term. Alario, a Republican in name only, served as Senate president for the past four years. Alario was a yes-man for the governor. He term-limited out of the Senate and decided not to run for the House. Alario knew something about power. He wheeled and dealt and positioned himself right in the thick of things as a legislator for 49 years.
We’ll soon know how badly Schexnayder, who previously was regarded as a reliable conservative, was willing to betray his convictions and how much he’ll mirror Alario after he announces committee chair assignments. One of the key committee chair appointments to watch for is House and Government Affairs. If Schexnayder places a Democrat as head of this committee it will have a big impact on redistricting next year. I’m told Democrats desperately want the House and Government Affairs chairmanship.
Another indication of how much Schexnayder was willing to give away to get his speakership will come with whom he appoints to the Civil Justice and Insurance committees. If Schexnayder places a Democrat as chair of either one of those committees, it could mean no tort reform legislation will reach the governor’s desk. Alario made sure of that during Edwards’ first term. Will Schexnayder carry that same torch for the governor?
Another thing to watch for is whether Schexnayder places a Democrat as chair of any of the money committees like Retirement, Ways and Means, or Appropriations. These are powerful chairmanships and big-government Democrats can do some real damage there.
The best-case scenario might have been if Schexnayder placed a Democrat as speaker pro tempore, a mostly meaningless position that has been given to Republican-in-name-only Tanner Magee, of Houma. But since he didn’t give that position to a Democrat, he would have had to cut a deal to give them some committee chairs instead. There are committees that don’t do much or carry much weight. If Schexnayder was able to cut a deal with the Democrats promising chairmanships of meaningless committees, the Republican could come out smelling like a rose with conservatives. But it’s unlikely Democrats would be so gullible.
How the House organizes will play a huge role in which direction the state heads over the next four years. During Edwards’ first term, he tried over and over to raise taxes. Former Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, resisted but was eventually worn down by the media, Democrats, and moderate Republicans to surrender to Edwards’ call for billions in new taxes. To Barras’ credit, he only agreed to half the taxes Edwards demanded.
But Barras was not the first choice of conservatives. Republican Rep. Cameron Henry from Metairie was. If Henry, who’s very conservative, were speaker, he would not have caved to Edwards insatiable demand for billions in new taxes.
We know where most Louisiana voters stand in all of this. They overwhelmingly elected what they thought was a conservative Legislature. The Senate seems poised to take a stand and resist the governor’s tax-raising and big government ways. But with Schexnayder cutting a deal with Democrats, the House is an open question. What men won’t do for power.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.