Louisiana Legislature

Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras, left, and Senate President John Alario, open the annual state legislative session in Baton Rouge.

Let us hold down the celebrations, please, but more than half of the 2019 session of the Louisiana Legislature is now past.

Winners and losers? Hard to tell at this point, as legislators act — every year — with the dispatch of an organizational meeting of a middle-school club. That is, everything that needs to be done will be talked about now and achieved later, if ever.

Further, an election-year session is one with peculiar characteristics, but with sometimes contradictory impulses. The more obvious is to avoid controversy. After all, the voters might remember something bad one did when they go to the polls in October.

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In these days of social media irresponsibility, caution is accentuated: Any vote may be defensible if one has heard even an hour of discussion in committee, or half-an-hour on the floor. But voters haven’t paid any attention, and pressure groups distort the issues and now declare you, Mr. Incumbent — and they’re almost all Mr. in the Louisiana Legislature — as an Enemy of the People.

Who wants to fight those brush fires in the weeks before the Oct. 12 primary?

But what’s the opposite impulse? After four years in office, what does Mr. Incumbent have to show for it?

When this crop of legislators was sworn in with new Gov. John Bel Edwards in January 2016, the House started with a bang by rejecting the governor’s Democratic nominee for speaker and instead choosing a member from the Republican caucus.

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That’s a marked departure for Louisiana and one that is widely deplored as an example of national politics and its vicious divisions invading the State Capitol. But it is unlikely to go away. The typical question now is what does Edwards have to show for re-election in October, but there is also the somewhat new question of what the House GOP caucus has to show for their four years in power.

That answer is going to be more complicated, because the governor is the center of political life in the State Capitol. That’s so even with a Democrat in the GOP-leaning Legislature, although Edwards has succeeded in forging a solid working relationship with Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and the majority-Republican senators.

That puts the House with its vociferously anti-tax and small-government message — to the exclusion of almost all else, really — in the position of answering the question of what they have to show for four years of attacks on Edwards.

It’s too early to tell, and there remains the possibility that Mr. Incumbent of the R variety will also be reaching for some distinction that might impress voters in the fall. Given the House caucus leaders' monomaniacal focus on cutting, or avoiding, taxes on powerful interests — er, job creators — that could include irresponsible new cuts to state revenues at the last minute in this election-year session.

Like the middle-schoolers with the club’s gift card from the principal, relative prosperity might lead the children of the House and Senate into error.

Term limits are also part of this equation: Some legislators aren’t coming back, having reached their 12-year limit in one chamber or the other. Those eighth-graders might want to spend the gift card now.

So if it’s too early to declare winners and losers, there is also time for irresponsible bills that might force veto messages from Edwards, in an election year. Not something the principal wants to see in his school.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.

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