If their recent comments are accurate, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales, both Republicans, believe they can communicate and compromise in order to make some long-sought changes in Louisiana state government.
Cortez said, “Clay and I have a similar appreciation for teamwork and for working together. He and I constantly talked about working with the governor. And I’m going to tell you that if we work together and we don’t work with the governor, then it’s going to be fatal, the state won’t move forward.”
Some GOP lawmakers known as the Gang of No were at odds with Edwards during much of his first term, and many of them are back again. They have always been quick to label any who cooperate with Edwards as RINOs (Republicans in name only). They did it again when 23 GOP House members voted for Schexnayder as speaker.
The 45 Republicans who wanted Rep. Sherman Mack of Albany as speaker hold the key as to whether communication and compromise with Edwards will be possible. LaPolitics Weekly, in a wide-ranging interview, asked Schexnayder about those 45 members.
“… I can tell you just about all of the 45 have come and sat down with me and told me they’re ready to get to work,” Schexnayder said. “They’ve pledged to work as one body, and I’ve pledged to be what I have always been, which is a team player.”
Sounds good, but Schexnayder did say “just about all of the 45.” Who the others are will have a lot to say about whether compromise is possible.
Edwards knows the odds are stacked against him this term. Republicans hold 27 seats in the 39-member Senate, one more than the two-thirds needed to override a governor’s veto. There are 68 Republicans in the House, two short of its two-thirds majority.
Former Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, who was termlimited and retired after 48 years in the Legislature, was a close ally of Edwards. He appointed Democrats to some key committees and they derailed a number of House-passed bills. Republicans now control those key Senate committees.
Tort reform is the No. 1 goal of Republicans and the state’s business groups. Tort reform is described as proposed changes to the civil justice system that aim to reduce the ability of accident and other victims to file lawsuits or reduce the monetary damages they can receive.
Stephen Waguespack, president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, was in Lake Charles last week and said fixing the state’s legal system is one of the top priorities in the legislative session beginning March 9. He said agriculture, timber, logging and trucking interests can’t get commercial vehicle insurance in this state that is affordable.
Attorneys who file those suits are often referred to as “trial lawyers.” They are closely allied with Edwards and insist there is no proof that the changes Waguespack and others want to make would lower vehicle insurance rates. Critics of tort reform say attacking lawsuits ignores other reasons like distracted and drunken driving that cause high insurance premiums.
Edwards did say he is willing to discuss and negotiate the issue with legislators and supports doubling the time people have to file a lawsuit, which would lead to fewer claims being filed.
Cortez said, “If we really want to legislate appropriately, we want to get a bill that effects change and that the governor will sign. Because if we put ourselves in a position with all these bills where we have to override the veto, that’s not a good posture to put yourself in. Again, we have to work together to move forward.”
Although the Senate has the veto numbers (two-thirds) and the House is close, getting all of the Republicans to override a veto is still a difficult hurdle to climb.
Cortez wants to pass bills Edwards will sign, but he added, “Now, the flip side of that is if the Legislature has a mandate that we’re passing this bill out, I don’t think it makes good sense on his (Edwards) part to veto something that comes out with almost unanimous consent.”
Schexnayder told LaPolitics Weekly that infrastructure (roads, bridges, ports and airports) is another major issue. Finding the money to do much of that work is going to be difficult because getting two-thirds of the Legislature to raise new revenues in 2021 seems unlikely at this point.
Public school teachers are unhappy Edwards didn’t include another pay increase in his proposed budget. And Republicans are expected to continue their attacks on Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for poor and low-income Americans.
Whether Edwards, Cortez and Schexnayder can come together to solve some of this state’s major problems remains to be seen. We can only hope that is finally possible, but the road ahead will still be rocky.