State Rep. Cameron Henry may have lost his bid to become Louisiana’s house speaker, but for a morning, anyway, he still managed to steal Gov. John Bel Edwards’ thunder. This was the day the House was scheduled to start hashing out the budget mess, with Henry, a Metairie Republican who snagged the Appropriations chairmanship as a consolation prize, set to lead his committee through the Democratic governor’s budget.
Budget hearings are always a centerpiece of a legislative session, but never more so than this year, with the two men at odds over major matters such as how to fully fund the popular TOPS college scholarship program despite a $600 million budget shortfall, and whether lawmakers should hold a second special session in June to raise even more revenue than they were able to cobble together in the first one.
And indeed, talk of the budget was expected to dominate Edwards’ pre-planned noon appearance before the Baton Rouge Press Club.
Instead, the issue on many tongues was a surprise bill that Henry had just unveiled, which would remove Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office from the executive budget that Edwards oversees.
Landry, like Henry, hails from the most conservative faction of the party, the one that’s adopted the most confrontational approach to Edwards’ ascent, and Henry’s bill certainly comes off as a shot at the governor. Edwards’ allies in the room, state House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger III and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, immediately labeled the idea unconstitutional. It passed out of committee anyway, even though some members said they hadn’t heard of the proposal until that morning.
Over at the Press Club, Edwards worked through his familiar budget-centered talking points, arguing that the shortfall for next year is smaller than it might have been due in part to his decision to expand Medicaid largely on the federal dime; that $600 million is still a very big number for state Louisiana’s size; and that he thinks lawmakers will need to go into a second special session in June in order to raise enough revenue to pay for TOPS for the coming academic year without gutting other services, particularly health care.
The first question from the assembled journalists, though, was about the Henry bill, and he calmly let everyone know just what he thought. He called it “problematic” for both “legal and policy reasons,” said that he hadn’t had a meeting with Henry about it and that it never came up in his conversations with House Speaker Taylor Barras, and predicted its ultimate demise.
“I don’t see that that bill’s going to become law,” Edwards said.
He’s right. Even if it passes the House, it’s hard to see the more conciliatory Senate going along. And in the unlikely event that does happen, Edwards would surely veto it.
So call the bill what it is: A stunt. It’s just the sort of maneuver that Edwards’ adversaries hope will weaken his power and aura of authority. It’s also exactly the type of thing that paints the governor’s opponents as driven by partisan games rather than entirely focused on the very real problems they face, today of all days.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.