Perhaps because he is a bit younger than the general run of legislators in the Great Silo of Statesmanship in downtown Baton Rouge, Ted James is catching on to the new lingo of state politics quicker than the rest of us.
"They are the majority," the Democrat from Baton Rouge said of the Republican members of the body in which he serves.
Explicit language about party politics hasn't been the rule in state politics in Louisiana. Now, though, with Gov. John Bel Edwards being the only statewide elected Democrat, the party party is on even at the State Capitol, where successive generations of legislators have tried to avoid partisan divisions over the issues.
James' rejoinder to a question about undedicating some of the money in the budget, now directed by law to specific purposes, was one in a series of arguments he made to the Press Club of Baton Rouge that reflected a new way to talk about state issues.
Most of the members of House and Senate are Republicans, and they are obligated to govern, James said. When push came to shove, though, they didn't have a majority to undedicate a single fund, James noted. "It's another opportunity to talk about what we could do, and not actually do it," he said acidly.
James' comments were framed with appropriate praise for members working together across party lines.
Two of the districts most heavily hurt by disastrous 2016 flooding were those of James and Barry Ivey, a Republican from Central whose district abuts the Democrat's. James praised the work of his area's two representatives in Congress, Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, "who worked together to solve a problem" affecting people who took out Small Business Administration loans to rebuild and were later penalized by federal law.
Ivey has also pushed a large number of tax reform bills in the state House, and James noted that even though Ivey's party is in the majority, his bills were not passed. The problem, James said, is what Ivey also groused about in the press — that some Republican leaders don't want to give Edwards a win politically.
"Games stopped us from moving forward," James said.
With a two-thirds vote needed to pass any revenues, even replacing those expiring on June 30, the Legislature has been a case study in paralysis. The hard line Republican caucus in the House captured key committees and blocked not only many new revenues but reform ideas like Ivey proposed, James said.
"The egg is not on the face of the governor," James said. "The egg is on the face of the Legislature."
Fair enough, and perhaps it's the shape of things to come when the State Capitol becomes more like the national Capitol: The best proof of an anti-Edwards political agenda is one James made about the budget.
A small technical fix is needed in the budget, already signed into law, authorizing spending of any money raised in the new special session. The same problem occurred during the administration of Gov. Mike Foster and was fixed without reopening the entire budget debate in that special session, James said.
"When Republican Mike Foster did that, it was not a problem," he said. "Now, for a Democrat, it is."
This, of course, does not make the current standoff purely a matter of party politics; after all, the GOP Senate largely backs the governor on the budget and probably would sign off on revenue bills that beat the red light in the House.
Still, James' remarks suggest that a new and considerably more party-oriented political language is in our future down the bayou.