Louisiana Inauguration

Newly elected House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, speaks after being sworn into the leadership position at the state Capitol in Baton Rouge, Jan. 13.

There were more than a few people who were definite — absolutely definite — about the intraparty struggle in the Louisiana House of Representatives.

One of them was state Rep. Patrick Jefferson, D-Homer, unalterably committed to Rep. Sherman Mack R-Albany, backed for speaker by the most conservative of the party’s power brokers. From the Black Caucus to the religious-right of the Louisiana Family Forum, the Rev. Gene Mills also said that Mack had it in the bag.

“They’re going to find that they can get on the bus or be left behind,” Mills told the Press Club of Baton Rouge, right before Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, won the speakership.

The reader has come to the wrong space for malicious enjoyment of busted political predictions. Remember that John Bel Edwards was in trouble in the 2015 runoff, that Donald Trump could not be the 2016 nominee, and so on. You read those here first.

But the fact that some members of the Black Caucus were going to defect to the hard-liner in the House maneuvering was significant, and that they didn’t even more so: Clearly, the governor had something to do with that result. And just as clearly, Mills was right that the majority of House Republicans, including some relative moderates like Rep. Barbara Freiberg of Baton Rouge, were for Mack.

Inside Clay Schexnayder's Louisiana House speaker win: A costly misstep, a last-minute push, more

The difference should not be overstated as an ideological matter. Most Republicans in the Legislature remain quite conservative, and personalities often are at play in such a behind-the-scenes battle.

The larger lesson is that Edwards is in a position of some political strength but hardly overweening power.

The governor’s lengthy discussion of issues and accomplishments, and repeated invocations of bipartisanship during his second inaugural suggest that Edwards won reelection on his own terms. He is not a transformational leader of state government. He engages issues as a transactional leader, one who gives and takes, seeks to be the reasonable man in the room.

The overheated opposition to Edwards during his first term by the more ideologically motivated House leadership made being the reasonable man difficult. The governor often radiated intense frustration with the land mines thrown into what he thought of reasonable courses of action; sometimes, he looked an awful lot like his late father, the sheriff who was so immensely powerful in Tangipahoa Parish, and who could be very tough when crossed.

But being the reasonable man, the transactional governor won in the end, even with the president’s interventions in the 2019 race.

If the inaugural is any guide, the transactional governor is ready to do business, and in both Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, he has leadership willing to debate him but also to deal with him.

More than that, he could not reasonably ask.

However, it’s not going to be easy. The Legislature is filled with new faces because of term limits; managing the House is always difficult and may be more so this term.

The paymasters of the State Capitol, like the oil and gas industry, are still smarting that the trial lawyer backing lawsuits for coastal damages is in charge; business lobbyists see a lawyer with a veto pen over tort reform bills. The Mack backers in the private sector, like big GOP donor Lane Grigsby, cannot be happy with events; embarrassed officials like U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, and Attorney General Jeff Landry have hardly decided to hibernate for four years.

When Mills looked in his crystal ball, we were still all absorbed with the upcoming national championship game. Mills used the governor’s Amite High number to observe that “No. 11 won’t have great receivers in an open field” in the Legislature. “He’ll see a series of linebackers trying to limit his legislative agenda.”

Some of them have tripped on their shoelaces, but they can still get in the game later.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.

Lanny Keller: Gov. John Bel Edwards a man of the system -- for better or worse

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.