Changing Legislature Signals Tough Road Ahead for Edwards

Nov 27, 2019

With the 2019 election behind him, Governor John Bel Edwards’ focus has shifted from winning a second term to figuring out how to get his initiatives through an even more conservative legislature.

He talked about his priorities last week at his first press conference since the election.

“One is that I will insist that we continue doing everything we can to grow the economy,” Edwards said.

Other priorities include a renewed focus on infrastructure improvements and increased investment in education.

“Early childhood will be my highest priority for new education investments in the second term,” he added, echoing a common promise he made on the campaign trail.

But Edwards  also wants to boost K-12 teacher salaries and the state’s minimum wage.

He has pushed for a minimum wage increase each year since taking office, and it failed every time. Judging by the results of this fall’s legislative races, it is likely to face an even more difficult path in the coming term.

Republicans fell short of earning the supermajority they were aiming for in the House, but term limits paved the way for the GOP to pick up seats in both chambers.

More than 40% of State Senators and nearly 30% of House members were termed out.

And in many cases, seats that were once filled by moderate Republicans are now occupied by more conservative newcomers.

Last week, Republican Representative Barry Ivey of Central discussed the future of the legislature on a panel at LSU’s Manship School. He’s one of several legislators running for Speaker of the House.

“In my opinion, leadership has never mattered more than it will this upcoming term,” Ivey said.

Until recently, legislative leadership was-- in effect-- hand picked by the governor. That changed in the House when Edwards took office in 2016, but the Democratic governor did have a solid ally in Senate President John Alario.

Alario is retiring this year as a Republican, but began his 48-year career as a Democrat. He was a giant in the legislature, and a moderating force as it transitioned from blue to red.

He’s gone now, and so is the legislature he presided over for so many years.

Under the leadership of Taylor Barras, the outgoing Speaker of the House, many key committees were able to kill Edwards’ legislative priorities before they made to the House floor.

Jeremy Alford of La Politics also spoke on the Manship panel.

“If the legislature wants to stick it to the governor, they can pretty good by stacking those committees in a way that doesn’t mirror what John has done for many decades,” Alford said.

Many think that the Governor isn’t likely to push for a democratic candidate for Speaker or Senate President, suggesting that he’ll take a step back in the selection process.

“I think that void will be filled by special interests,” Alford continued. “During redistricting, during leadership races, government relations professionals would usually stay away back in the day. It’s not that way any more.”

Representative Pat Smith, a Baton Rouge Democrat who is on her way out, says Edwards is more likely to exert his influence in other ways.

“I think that the governor is going to have to work a little bit harder,” Smith said. “You know, it's going to be how the committees are actually put together. Who's going to chair them? What's the influence going to be?”

Edwards hasn’t said how he’ll approach the selection of new leadership, but says he’s just hoping to get someone with whom he can work.

“If they want independence that’s great, but obstructionism and independence are not the same thing,” Edwards said.

Regardless, there will be plenty of back-room maneuvering before the legislature reconvenes for its organizational session on January 13th.