Although the governor has traditionally enjoyed tremendous influence over whom the House selects as its leader — and even though the gubernatorial contest is far from being decided — there are already 10 representatives who tell LaPolitics they are either running for speaker or are considering the race.
The race for speaker of the Louisiana House, sixth in the line of gubernatorial succession, is kicking off at the same time as this year’s heated regular session. The election in the House will not take place until next January, but lawmakers are having to position now, ahead of their fall re-elections.
They’re having to do so with no knowledge of who will be the state’s next governor.
Of the 10 representatives who say they’re in the hunt so far, six are already raising money or collecting pledges for PACs, or political action committees. The rush is on in a real way, thanks in no small part to term limits, which will block 47 representatives from seeking reelection in 2019. The term limits are lighting a fire under their ambitions.
The four declared candidates were asked if they would prefer to have a Democrat or a Republican as speaker. Rep. John Bel Edwards and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said they would defer to the body, as did Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, adding a preference for a “bold conservative.”
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, meanwhile, said he hasn’t given the topic any thought, although his conservative ideology is well known to the body.
As for whether they’ll get involved, Angelle said he would “cross that bridge when we get there,” based on whether lawmakers approach him first.
Dardenne, saying he looks forward to the discussion, and Edwards, saying he wouldn’t go as far as demanding committee assignments, said they expected to be part of the early dialogue.
Vitter didn’t provide a direct answer, although lawmakers say they have been told privately by the senator that he isn’t committed to anyone in the race.
Of course, not every candidate runs to become speaker. If history is any indication, some reps in the field want to keep their chairmanship or move up the ladder. It’s often said there’s no second place in politics, but many lawmakers will tell you that chairmanships can come with dropping out.
That’s why many in the body are keeping an eye on the PACs. “If you see someone with a PAC not spending all of it on the fall elections, then it’s a good bet that they’re gunning for something else,” said a representative.
There are some new names in the race — like Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, who recently registered the Kirk PAC with the Secretary of State’s Office. “We definitely need to have an independent House with an independent leader that will represent the members,” Talbot said, confirming he would be in the running for the January vote.
In separate interviews, both Reps. Taylor Barras and Stuart Bishop said they’re thinking about running. They’re Republicans from Acadiana, where supporters say they could build off the framework Ways and Means Chairman Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, used in his bid for speaker in 2011-12.
Bishop, in particular, could see a heightened profile this year as he works with LABI to take on the unions over the paycheck protection issue.
But the most notable entry to the field came with the announcement by House Education Chair Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, that he will be a candidate and that his Leadership Next PAC is operational. Carter was the original architect of the Capital Region Legislative Delegation, creating a formal coalition among people who had rarely communicated before. The numbers alone make him a dark horse contender to watch.
The longest-running candidate is Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, whose Cameron PAC benefitted from seed money from House Majority Whip Steve Scalise that has been put to use already. Several lawmakers say they’ve been visited in their districts by Henry.
Most said that the personal touch goes a long way. But two lawmakers suggested they were uncomfortable with the early campaigning, even though they like Henry, and may back him. “Aggressive” is the key term. Henry’s actively meeting with the gubernatorial candidates.
Should Vitter be elected governor, Henry’s quest may be questioned, since he would complete a Jefferson Parish trifecta with Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, expected to coast to re-election.
That outlook on regional influence may very well extend to Orleans, touching on the lone Democrat in the field, Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, R-New Orleans, whose Third Coast Leadership PAC has kept his name in the running in recent years. “I’m not asking for firm commitments,” Leger said. “The session should be the focus. I don’t want anything like a political leadership race to be a distraction when people have to deal with things for their districts.”
Others in the developing field include GOP Reps. Chris Broadwater of Hammond, Thomas Carmody of Shreveport, Joe Lopinto of Metairie and John Schroder of Covington. While Lopinto and Schroder are taking a wait-and-see approach, Broadwater and Carmody say they plan on campaigning as consensus builders.
“I’m a Republican through and through, but I’m also a big believer in how we have operated historically,” said Broadwater. “Even though parties are important in terms of votes, I don’t think Democrats should be shut out. We’ve always worked well together. All of us. That’s what unites the House.”
For his part, Carmody said with a laugh, “the last speaker from Caddo was right before Reconstruction, when Louisiana was facing similar financial constraints. But I think what I can show the House is a leader who is working for the state and the body as well as the administration.”
Fannin: We’ll Wait For State Revenue
Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, said he may wait until he gets a clear picture of what revenue bills the Senate is willing to send back to the House before he advances the main budget bill. Fannin may not get that clear picture until late in the session. And lawmakers must end the session by June 11.
“We really should wait until we can get a good handle on what kind of money we’ll be working with,” said Fannin.
The entire framework of the session will be different this year due to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s “revenue neutral” rule. The governor will not endorse any net increase in taxes. But he is willing to sign a tax increase if it is offset by a decrease elsewhere in the budget by the same amount.
That will be a tall order with a $1.6 billion budget shortfall.
The situation has resulted in a session with several moving pieces; while the budget is traditionally cobbled together each year with a small handful of bills, this spring lawmakers may be forced to use dozens of bills to balance the budget. Bills to increase taxes, reduce incentives and repeal exemptions are just a few examples.
Fannin said he needed assurances that the revenues targeted in bills moving through the House and Senate will ultimately be approved before he advances the budget that bears his name as the lead author.
“Good assurances are hard to come by lately,” he said with a laugh.
The bottom line may very well be a budget bill, found in HB 1, that moves later than usual.
Commerce Office Awaits New Governor
The Senate Transportation Committee just passed legislation to create a new state office dedicated to multimodal commerce and to appoint a commissioner to manage operations.
If ultimately approved, the next governor will be tasked with selecting the new figurehead after taking their oath of office in January, 2016.
The multimodal office, which would operate within the framework of the Dept. of Transportation and Development, would focus solely on commercial trucking, ports, waterways, aviation, freight and passenger rail.
Sen. Norby Chabert said his SB 161 would allow the DOTD to concentrate its efforts on roads and highways during a time when its construction and maintenance backlog has reached $12 billion.
Business Cool To Jindal Speech
When Gov. Bobby Jindal made his session-opening speech, the business lobby walked away from the 21-minute address with equal parts doubt and concern. That was due to his repeated use of “corporate welfare” in his speech.
“All of a sudden the governor wants to balance the budget on the back of business and he’s calling it corporate welfare,” said Dawn R. Starns, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “That is a change in tone. Was it corporate welfare when he was investing in these mega-projects and investing money in companies to get them to move here?”
Economic Development Fees May Rise
Application, administration and processing fees for some of Louisiana’s most popular economic development programs could soon increase to help the state pay the costs of overseeing the programs. The House Commerce Committee approved HB 773 to create the new fee schedule.
“The fees in this area of the law have not been increased in many, many years,” said Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, the bill’s author.
The affected fee changes would apply to the Quality Jobs Program; Enterprise Zone Program; restoration tax abatement; research and development; and other programs.
LMOGA To Spend On Elections
The Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Assoc. has always been active in legislative elections. But this fall will be different for its MC-PAC, with big checks coming in and big asks underway.
“We’ll spend more money this time than ever before,” said LMOGA president Chris John.
The former congressman said term limits are one reason. The anti-energy votes made by some lawmakers in recent years is another.
While the processing tax and a handful of other perennial bills were always enough to gauge the loyalty of lawmakers to industry, John said there are now many more policy measures to track, such as proposals on legacy matters and litigation.
In addition, the recent suits against oil companies by parish governments have led to LMOGA getting involved in local politics.
“We’ve never played on that level before,” said John.
An Early Look At Redistricting
The U.S. Census recently released the latest parish population statistics. John Couvillon, CEO of JMC Analytics and Polling, said there are redistricting implications to be gleaned from the data.
At the present rate of growth, he said, the upcoming round of reapportionment could see Orleans and St. Bernard parishes recapture two of the four state House seats that were eliminated in the region in 2011.
Moreover, Couvillon is predicting that additional robust population growth points to one or two new House seats somewhere along the I-10/I-12 corridor, which includes Ascension, Lafayette, Livingston, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes.
Those gains, however, would have to be offset somewhere else, he added. It looks as if Caddo and Jefferson parishes could lose at least one seat each if the trend holds. Further offsetting would also be seen in the state’s rural parishes.
We’ll know for sure following the 2020 count. For now, it’s all a guessing game.
They Said It
“It doesn’t take long if you don’t have money.”
— Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton, commenting on how quickly his committee meeting ended
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.