Update, 9 p.m.: New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has also weighed in on Democratic state Rep. Neil Abramson’s vote against Democratic state Rep. Walt Leger’s bid to be speaker of the Louisiana House.
“Walt Leger would have been a great speaker,” Landrieu said. “He has a history of bringing people together across party lines. For him to have lost this race in this way was a missed opportunity for bipartisanship. For him to lose it with the help of a democratic member of the New Orleans delegation is inexplicable.”
The last-minute entry of state Rep. Neil Abramson into the race this week for speakership of the Louisiana House and his decision to cast the only Democratic vote against his own party’s nominee has angered many of his fellow New Orleans Democrats, who have described his actions as a betrayal that kneecapped both the city and Gov. John Bel Edwards before the new Democratic governor even took office.
A recall petition is in the works targeting the Uptown Democrat, and the leadership of the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee on Thursday night moved toward seeking a resolution officially denouncing his role in state Rep. Walt Leger’s loss of the speakership Monday to Republican Rep. Taylor Barras.
While Abramson’s campaign for speaker didn’t peel off enough votes to cost Leger the race, and his eventual vote for Barras didn’t provide the margin of victory, his actions supported a Republican narrative that Democrats were fractured and contributed to the unprecedented defeat of the governor’s chosen candidate, according to party activists and officials.
“We need to send a message to everyone including our politicians and each other,” said New Orleans City Councilman James Gray, who chairs the Democrats’ parish committee. “I think there ought to at least be some indication that this isn’t just a party issue but that you’ve hurt the city of New Orleans, and all citizens of New Orleans, regardless of party, have been harmed.”
Abramson said Friday that Democrats should be directing their anger at Leger.
“People already knew that Walt was having difficulty with Republican and Democrat votes, and it had nothing to do with me,” he said.
Despite winning only two votes for his bid and getting no support from Republicans, Abramson suggested he could have been an “insurance policy” and a consensus candidate had Leger dropped out.
“Are they going to express outrage and unhappiness to Rep. Leger for going through with a vote that it was obvious he could not win, instead of backing off and allowing another Democrat to win?” Abramson asked.
Both Abramson and Barras were last-minute entries into a race that, until just before Monday’s vote, had pitted Leger against Rep. Cameron Henry, a Metairie Republican. Leger had the backing of the new governor — in the past enough to guarantee victory — and had been working to shore up votes among Republicans in the GOP-dominated, 105-member House.
In the initial balloting, Leger got 49 votes, including a number of Republicans, but was still four short of the number needed for victory. Henry and Barras together had 54 Republican votes, a majority. Abramson, who had been nominated by Republican state Rep. Clay Schexnayder, won only his own vote and that of one other Democrat.
Henry then dropped out, and Abramson and New Orleans Republican Stephanie Hilferty threw their votes to Barras, adding to his margin of victory.
Leger was then elected speaker pro tem, the House’s second-highest position, without opposition.
Abramson pointed out that Leger would not have won even with his vote on either ballot, and said that by casting his lot with the Republicans he positioned himself to be on good terms with the new speaker.
“When the second vote happened, there’s nobody anywhere that has any question that Barras was going to win,” Abramson said.
His Democratic critics say that his mere entry into the race reinforced Republican claims that Leger could be defeated. That may have weakened the resolve of GOP members Leger had courted, but Republican leaders were working to bring back into their fold.
“They only got that vote from people that thought there was disorganization” in the ranks of Leger’s supporters, state Sen. Wesley Bishop told the parish committee’s leaders Thursday night.
That group moved to begin a process of denouncing Abramson, which would have to be done by a vote of the full parish Executive Committee.
Several officials at the special meeting said they had reached out to Abramson to let him explain his vote, but he did not show up. Abramson said he never received any calls.
The committee also mentioned, but did not take action on, a resolution supporting an effort to recall Abramson. While a Facebook page has been set up for the effort, no one has publicly stepped forward to lead the campaign. A recall would require garnering the signatures of at least a third of the voters in his district, which votes heavily Democratic.
Both House Republicans and Abramson have denied some Democrats’ suggestions that they coordinated their efforts in the speaker’s race or that he was promised a reward for his vote for Barras.
Abramson did say he was hoping for a position chairing a House committee. “I’m eminently qualified to work with the speaker and the governor to fix the state’s problems,” he said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.