Tensions high in Louisiana GOP after House speaker's vote
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republicans on the losing side of the Louisiana House speaker’s vote bristled Tuesday in the aftermath of the divisive leadership competition, an indication the GOP may have difficulty capitalizing on its legislative gains from the fall elections.
Though Republicans hold a strong 68 of 105 House seats, they split on who they supported for the chamber’s top leadership job — giving Democrats the upper hand in determining the outcome of the competition. Democrats voted as a bloc Monday with a faction of Republicans to elect GOP Rep. Clay Schexnayder of Ascension Parish as House speaker.
Schexnayder was not backed by prominent Republican officials and donors — or a majority of the GOP House lawmakers.
A day after the vote, House Republican leader Blake Miguez criticized Schexnayder’s election as giving too much influence to Democrats and threatening to undermine conservatives’ agenda in the new term. Miguez said the House speaker’s race kept “a supermajority of our delegation out of the process” and gave a win to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“That was a litmus test. Are you a true conservative, and do you respect the party that you’re elected upon?” Miguez told a Baton Rouge GOP luncheon crowd.
Schexnayder, a car repair shop owner, won with support from 23 Republicans, all 35 Democrats and the House’s two independents. Forty-five Republicans voted for Rep. Sherman Mack, a Livingston Parish lawyer supported by U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Mack tried to win Democratic support to help boost him to victory, at one point agreeing to a Democrat for the House’s second-ranking job. But he was unable to sway Democrats who have been repeatedly at odds with Kennedy, Landry and several GOP lawmakers backing Mack. Many Republicans with Schexnayder were more willing to work across party lines last term.
Edwards didn’t have influence over which candidates were vying to be speaker but, faced with the two contenders, he favored Schexnayder. Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens said the governor and his staff called Democrats, urging them to vote as a group to control the outcome — and urging them to vote against Mack.
“His message was that Democrats need to stick together. He had some concerns about the people supporting Sherman Mack,” Stephens said. “He was pleased with the result of the election.”
Meanwhile, divisions among Republicans simmered.
At Miguez’s speech, GOP political consultant Scott Wilfong defended Schexnayder as a “good conservative guy” who is a member of the state Republican Party’s governing body and has a strong rating with the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
“I understand the disappointment that your candidate didn’t get elected, but I have every confidence that Clay Schexnayder is a conservative,” Wilfong told Miguez.
Miguez questioned Schexnayder’s record on taxes — but, more importantly, the way he won the speaker’s job.
“In elections, the people that get you there, sometimes you have to answer to them,” Miguez said. “And he got there with 35 Democratic votes.”
The House speaker has significant sway over the fate of legislation, choosing how to assign bills and picking the leaders and members of each committee in the chamber.
Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Denham Springs Republican who supported Mack, worried about how much influence Schexnayder will give to Democrats on important committees.
“He is indebted now,” she said.
When he nominated Schexnayder for speaker, Lafayette Republican Rep. Stuart Bishop framed the choice about independence. He suggested Mack was too closely tied to outside influences, a charge Miguez made Tuesday about Schexnayder.
After winning the speaker’s gavel, Schexnayder talked of working together without Washington-style partisan politics.
“Moving Louisiana forward will take every one of us,” he told colleagues.
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