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Governor John Bel Edwards Sworn In For Second Term

Paul Braun
Soggy onlookers await the start of the second inauguration of Gov. John Bel Edwards, January 13, 2020.

Democrat John Bel Edwards officially began his second term as Louisiana Governor Monday, taking his oath of office on the Capitol steps.

A drizzling rain fell over the crowd for much of the morning. Still, hundreds filled the capitol lawn to witness the ceremony. 

There was the traditional 19 gun salute, and the glee club from West Point, Edwards’ alma mater, performed the national anthem. 

In his inaugural address, Edwards’ recapped his first term. He praised Democrats and Republicans for coming together to solve a budget crisis, better fund education and infrastructure projects and to enact landmark criminal justice reforms.

He also outlined his top priorities for his second term, namely, workforce development, raising the state minimum wage and early childhood education.

JOHN BEL EDWARDS: Even though we’ve come a long way we certainly have a lot more work ahead of us… There are still too many people living in poverty without adequate access to the opportunities needed to succeed.

The Democratic governor knows the success or failure of his agenda largely depends on Republican lawmakers. The GOP has commanding majorities in the House and Senate.

Edwards extended an olive branch… and issued a challenge.

EDWARDS: The future is ours to seize, but we have to commit here and now to be great, to work together, to continue to reject the partisan rancor and dysfunction that plagues Washington D.C.

Members of the House of Representatives made their own statement on bipartisanship with their choice of Gonzales Republican Clay Schexnayder as Speaker.

For weeks, conservative leaders in the state had urged House Republicans to unite behind Representative Sherman Mack-- the preferred candidate of Senator John Kennedy and Attorney General Jeff Landry.

The move would have blocked Democrats from the process. That didn’t sit well with many more moderate Republicans.

But when lawmakers pushed back, Landry and Kennedy’s super PAC targeted the dissidents with attack ads.

Stuart Bishop of Lafayette was one of those lawmakers.

STUART BISHOP: There should be no outside influence in the decisions to manage this body, our body. Only the 105 people inside this room should decide what happens between these brass rails.

In the end, 23 Republicans broke ranks and… 

ACTING SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE ROBBY CARTER: By a vote of 60 for Schexnayder and 45 for Mack, Representative Schexnayder is elected speaker.

Schexnayder echoed some of Bishop’s calls for legislative independence, but struck a softer tone.

CLAY SCHEXNAYDER: We may not always agree on policy, we may not agree on politics, but we can all agree that the best days of Louisiana are ahead of it.

With Schexnayder as speaker, Democrats can expect more committee chairmanships. Edwards and his allies may have an easier time getting their bills through House committees that derailed their legislative priorities in the past.

The race for Senate President was far less eventful.

After facing criticism for conducting leadership races by secret ballot, the Senate suspended their rules and invited the public to tune in. . It was mostly a symbolic gesture. Page Cortez of Lafayette ran unopposed.

Inauguration day also marked some historic firsts.

Senator Cameron Henry and Representative Charles Henry, both Republicans from Jefferson Parish, are the first brothers to serve in the legislature at the same time.

House Clerk Michelle Fontenot and Senate Secretary Yolanda Dixon are the first women to hold the top administrative role in either chamber. Dixon is also the first African American to serve in either position.

And after 100 years the Long family dynasty is officially over. Republican Gerald Long-- Huey’s third cousin-- was forced out by term limits.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.