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Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, makes an impassioned plea to defeat HB1, the state budget bill, during debate on the measure Thursday April 19, 2018, in Baton Rouge, La. The budget bill passed 55-47.

Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras is a piker when it comes to legislative obstruction — at least when compared to assemblies in the upper Midwest.

Politicos from the governor on down have criticized the New Iberia Republican banker for practicing, in their eyes, petty partisanship in order to maneuver around legislative will by refusing to recognize additional revenues that have come into state coffers.

Barras on Monday used the rules that require unanimity among the four members of the Revenue Estimating Conference to veto using a higher revenue figure. He didn’t want to saddle the state with additional spending should the economy falter and revenues go down.

House leadership has long argued for not spending all the money state government has available. Their position was rejected by legislators when they passed a budget that included additional projects that would receive funding only if the REC recognizes additional revenues.

Up in Michigan and Wisconsin — the two states that sealed President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 — voters in November opted to go with Democratic governors and other state executives. To the chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!,” lame-duck Republican-majority legislatures passed bills to strip an array of powers from the recently elected Democratic governors and other state officials before they take office.

Michigan lawmakers passed legislation to gut a voter-initiated minimum-wage hike and paid sick leave policy. Wisconsin GOP legislators approved limits on early voting, which skews Democratic in that state, and prevent the new Democratic governor from banning guns in the Wisconsin Capitol.

Both states passed provisions prohibiting the newly elected Democratic attorneys general from abandoning a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act filed by Republican state attorneys general, including Louisiana’s.

Outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed the bills into law Friday. Michigan’s legislature is in session until Thursday.

Louisiana is different, said House Minority Leader Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville.

First, the math is such that while Republicans hold a substantial majority in the 105-member House, they don’t unilaterally control the chamber. Their 58 votes can pass most bills, but the most important legislation requires the House majority to pick off at least a dozen Democrats. That requires some give and take on both sides of the aisle.

The November elections added a Republican to the House — to replace Mike Danahay, a Democrat elected mayor of Sulphur earlier this year.

Seven more House seats became vacant during the election cycle that ended Dec. 8 when representatives joined the bench or were elected to local offices or took state jobs.

Two of the newly emptied seats are inner city districts that should return Democrats to the House. But a third, a largely rural district centered on Pointe Coupee Parish, could go either way. Democrats hold 37 seats in the House.

Two other seats up for grabs were held by Republicans willing to cross the aisle. Kenny Havard, of St. Francisville, who was elected West Feliciana Parish president, and Rob Shadoin, of Ruston, who went to work for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, often angered some of their Republican colleagues by siding with Democrats.

Johnson is hopeful Democrats can flip one of those seats in the Feb. 23 primary and, if needed, the March 30 runoff. But they could also go to Republicans less willing to negotiate.

The key difference with the Michigan and Wisconsin assemblies, Johnson said, is that the Louisiana Legislature still debates issues, even though the philosophical divide is wide.

“There is something to sitting in that room and having those conversations. You might get angry. You might stomp your feet. But you have to get things done,” Johnson said. It took seven tries, but the House passed a sustainable budget earlier this year. Because legislators can’t spend more money than the REC recognizes, part of the budget deal was to set aside $43.3 million worth of wanted projects until the REC officially determined extra money was available.

One of those “below the line” is in Johnson’s district — a juvenile corrections facility built by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal but never opened due to lack of funding.

Johnson sees Barras' REC intransigence as a philosophical disagreement rather than a power play. “I understand where the speaker is coming from. I don’t agree. I think he’s wrong, but I understand his concerns,” Johnson said.

Though he couldn’t recall where he read it, Johnson said he adheres to the belief that democracy requires partisans to uphold fair play traditions. “Because they can” actions inevitably lead to more extreme counter actions and more animosity.

“We haven’t gotten to that extent,” Johnson said of his colleagues. “I think we all realize that we are sent here to get things done.”


Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.