State Capitol Baton Rouge politics

Advocate file photo -- The Louisiana State Capitol.

The large class of new legislators were at the State Capitol this week to learn the facts of life.

There are many mechanical tasks to master, like using state computers, and ethics training to suggest that everything done on the laptop might be expected to appear in local newspapers.

There are life skills in the Legislature, like how to appear for three minutes to answer roll calls at committee hearings, so that you qualify for that day’s per diem check.

And then there are the reality checks to be cashed.

New members, especially among the newly assertive Republican majority in the House, learn that the major donors did not give money because of a thirst for good government. Nor, for that matter, were the donors enamored of the intelligence or enthusiasm of a freshman member of the House.

Before the newbies have even cast a first vote, they’re being told how to vote, and most directly.

With a sharp divide in the House caucus over who will be speaker this term — Sherman Mack of Albany and Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales are thought to be the leading candidates — there are already intimations that “the party,” meaning the most right-wing clique of a generally very conservative crowd, will be unhappy if the head of the House is too accommodating with the recklessly liberal Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Nonsense, of course. But that’s one of the life lessons, that there is reality and then there is what happens in the Great Silo of Statesmanship, as Earl K. Long described the State Capitol.

Maybe they’re freshmen, but the newbies probably don’t see the governor as the Devil. And even in places like Jefferson Parish, where the governor won thumpingly in many GOP-held House districts, the newbies are aware of who won the last election.

In many quarters, that minor race at the top of the November ballot is still something of a mystery. At the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Stephen Waguespack wrote a postelection column distributed to Louisiana newspapers that talked about the public’s passion against business lawsuits and the wisdom of the new Legislature in seeking to curb them.

That this is a business-lobby passion and not something that motivates the average Louisiana voter may be clearer to green-as-grass freshmen than Capitol veterans like Waguespack — who in almost 775 words did not note that LABI’s endorsed candidate did not win the November governor’s election.

The Duke of Wellington is said to have called Waterloo a damn close-run thing, but even Napoleon knew who lost.

If there is a sense of hothouse flowers blooming this week in the State Capitol, that will pass.

As Waguespack can advise them, in calmer moments, the governor has not gone away, and his political obituary has not been written.

For although Edwards, a Democrat, has a more party-oriented Legislature from the GOP side than any of his predecessors, the fact is that every governor holds a lot of cards to play in the games of legislative life.

He proposes the detailed state budget and controls state departments. He has a bully pulpit, as Theodore Roosevelt described executive leadership. And Louisiana’s governor has a line-item veto that can delete spending items from the budget and much-desired projects from the capital outlay budget if members do not play well with others.

Interest groups like the influential oil and gas industry know that a governor’s decisions are important to their businesses. Stability, not permanent right-wing revolution, may be more important to many more donors than just the ones calling this week on behalf of speaker candidates.

And while the current threats — er, discussions — are about party loyalty, even the freshmen may notice that their districts require services from the state. There will emerge a downside of being all-out insurgents against Edwards, when voters — not in on the jihad against lawsuits — are unhappy that budgets are not passed on time, teacher pay raises don’t come due, roads and bridges don’t get built.

There is only one governor at a time.

Email Lanny Keller at

Our Views: In wake of Louisiana’s elections, a call for humility and wisdom

Email Lanny Keller at