The fallout from the dramatic conclusion of the regular session last week, and from the bumpy start to this term’s fourth special session, is only just beginning.
There are already well-publicized accusations that the Capitol’s top leaders are at best dysfunctional and at worst guilty of political malpractice. It’s a narrative that’s being driven full throttle into the minds of voters, fueled largely by engagement on social media and developing news coverage.
The storyline will continue past the special session’s adjournment (Monday, June 19) as well in search of just one answer: Who’s to blame?
It’s clear that Gov. John Bel Edwards was ready to blame “a handful of House members,” based on a digital ad that he shot in Baton Rouge last Wednesday morning — before anyone knew the state budget would die on the vine and a special session would absolutely be needed. “I’m prepared to keep the Legislature in Baton Rouge as long as it takes,” Edwards crows in the spot that went live right after the regular session ended.
The governor was more direct than ever on camera when identifying the House as the Capitol’s bottleneck. The digital ad, bankrolled by Rebuild Louisiana, marks a somewhat new tone in terms of public and paid-for presentations.
What is bothering conservatives isn’t the fact that Edwards took alternative takes during the shoot, as to be prepared for any outcome. It was that he spent Wednesday (June 7), before and after the shoot, refusing to budge on negotiations with the House over how much forecasted revenue to apply to the budget.
While the governor was eventually moving with the Senate and House toward a middle ground by last Thursday, Republicans are now arguing that a budget could have been passed had the governor decided to start bending earlier in the process.
Edwards, though, is sticking to his strategy of blaming the House, which on the surface is a difficult task. After all, it’s a challenge to put a face or personality on an institution to demonize, whereas the Governor’s Office has an easily-identifiable figurehead.
The governor has overcome that obstacle with the help of the working press. Editorials published by The Advocate and The Lafayette Advertiser calling for new House leadership definitely helps narrow the focus of Edwards’ messaging.
The last day of the regular session and the first day of the special session ended with representatives being pulled in different directions by GOP House Speaker Taylor Barras and Democratic Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger.
Barras allies, during the opening hours of the special session, were pondering a vote to oust Leger as pro tem while moderate Republicans — many of which sided with Democrats in trying to get a last-minute budget vote in the regular session — were questioning whether they had enough momentum to unseat Barras.
Neither side, however, was able to test the waters. Barras recognized Natural Resources Chairman Stuart Bishop for a motion to adjourn until this week, which Leger objected to before a 66-38 vote sent everyone home to watch LSU play baseball.
That surprise motion was politically expedient. With emotions running high any number of motions could have surfaced Thursday evening or even into the weekend had the House met.
There’s still a bit of work to do to ensure cooler temperatures will prevail as the special session moves along. But there’s no doubt that the lower chamber will continue to control the bumpiest terrain in the Capitol.
None of this has stopped some representatives from blaming senators for this mess, alleging the governor instructed the Senate not to negotiate with the House. Senators, of course, are fond of professing that no one tells the upper chamber what to do.
The same complaints heard over the past year and a half about the House having too many access points for legitimate negotiations were being parroted by senators again as the regular session adjourned.
In fact, some senators sound more pessimistic than their representative counterparts that a true compromise can be reached. The ideology behind how much money to save and spend is pushing the House and Senate even further apart than Memorial Hall already does.
The Senate is also being asked to address a request for censure filed by the House GOP delegation targeting Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who told a representative on the lower chamber’s floor to “shut the f**k up” during the regular session’s closing moments.
A few representatives said they were just as offended by the decision made by Peterson, the chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, to come onto the House floor last Thursday evening, walk to the well and hand Speaker Pro Tem Leger a rules book during a critical point in debate.
While the governor and Senate are blaming the House, and the House is blaming the governor and Senate, many observers are willing to note that there’s plenty of blame to go around for everyone.
It’s also worth noting that the blame game could begin once again when this special session reaches a conclusion… If it reaches a conclusion.