By Jeremy Alford and Mitch Rabalais
Shortly before press time, elected officials, staff, journalists and other members of the Capitoland chattering class made the trek to Baton Rouge’s American Legion Hall for the annual Gridiron Show. While the funny sketches and humorous songs preformed by the reporters are all meant in good fun, there was a time when the jokes about politicos were a little more biting.
In 1978, then-Gov. Edwin Edwards was plagued by reports of corruption in his administration and the publication of Just Takin’ Orders, a book by former gopher Clyde Vidrine. While the author was far from a reliable source and the manuscript had many glaring errors, much of the colorful information contained in the book provided the material for that year’s edition of Gridiron.
Writing about the show in The Last Hayride, LaPolitics founder John Maginnis said, “There was no lack of bad taste that night on the part of the reporters as they reenacted the spicier tales from the book. The governor sat through the show poker faced as usual, but his wife appeared far less amused.”
According to Maginnis, when Edwin Edwards was called on-stage for the traditional gubernatorial rebuttal, he shocked everybody by pulling out a copy of Vidrine’s book and asking the first lady to join him.
With the audience sitting in stunned silence, the normally shy and diminutive Elaine Edwards strode to the mic and started reading from a particularly salacious passage that involved Vidrine’s recollections of one night when her husband allegedly took multiple women into his hotel room for sexual liaisons.
“Well, of course, that’s untrue,” she said. “Anyone who knows my husband knows he would have been asleep after the first one.”
Laughter broke out almost immediately and the first lady received a standing ovation from the audience. The governor stood next to his wife, beaming with delight.
Senate Chairs Look Toward Regular Session
In fiscal sessions of the Louisiana Legislature, like the one that convenes April 8, members of the Senate are typically in a holding pattern during the opening weeks, since the annual budget bill and almost all tax proposals must originate in the House.
Senate Finance Chairman Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said that since there’s no agreement yet on the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) in terms of the money that can be spent during the session, the panel is largely on pause, watching and waiting to see what happens.
“I’m assuming at some point the speaker has a change of heart,” LaFleur said of House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, the holdout vote on the REC.
LaFleur added that the Legislature is likely to see more gaming bills this session, particularly those focused on establishing sports betting and collecting the generated revenues.
“A lot of people will be trying to grab that money,” he said.
Video poker bills, however, are expected to be light, if not non-existent.
“We won’t be filing any gaming bills,” said Alton Ashy of Advanced Strategies, a lobbyist for the Louisiana Video Gaming Association, “at least not for video poker.”
As expected, Senate Education Chairman Blade Morrish, R-Jennings, said that the major issue his committee will consider will be Gov. John Bel Edwards’ teacher pay raise proposal. Morrish expects the proposed increases — $1,000 for teachers and $500 for support personnel — will encounter little opposition.
“It’s not nearly enough, but it’s the best we can do,” he said.
Morrish told LaPolitics that he is also considering introducing legislation that would change the TOPS program in order to free up more money for early childhood education, a glaring need he has noticed during his tenure as chairman of the education committee.
“There are a lot of us that are termed out that want to take a last bite at the apple,” he said.
Judiciary C chair Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge; Health and Welfare Chair Fred Mills, R-Parks; and Labor and Industrial Relations Chair Neil Riser, R-Columbia, all admitted that they have not seen many bills come forward yet, but that is expected in a fiscal session when members are limited to five bills.
Riser said that he does expect the Edwards administration to reintroduce its bills on equal pay and the minimum wage, while Mills said that his committee will be looking at prescription benefits and freestanding emergency rooms.
They Said It
“I’m so happy we are able to meet today to remind us it is an election year.” — Senate President John Alario, on disagreements at Joint Budget, in The Times-Picayune
“It is going to make it very clear who is the boss here and who is running the show.” —U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, on proposed changes to social media agreements, on WDSU-TV
For more Louisiana political news, visit LaPolitics.com or follow Alford and Rabalais on Twitter via @LaPoliticsNow.