Editorial Roundup: Louisiana

The Advocate. July 25, 2021.

Editorial: Veto session was a bust, but still a warning for the future

The word “historic” got a workout as state legislators made much of their first formal veto session under the 1974 Louisiana Constitution.

The phrase “epic fail” might now be substituted for the Republican-led Legislature’s hubris.

Even with a few Democratic defections on some bills, not one of some two dozen measures considered in the two-day veto session resulted in an override of the governor’s vetoes from the earlier regular session of the Legislature.

While Republicans, by and large, stuck together, they also had defections on particular bills that actually came to a vote.

Given the hoopla of the “historic” event, the failure of legislative leaders to accomplish anything is striking. The result cannot be seen as other than a humiliation for House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, of Gonzales, and Senate President Page Cortez, of Lafayette.

Can no one in the leadership count votes?

Gov. John Bel Edwards declined to rub it in, but he was clearly happy that all his vetoes were upheld, even in the face of intensive lobbying by social conservatives for an unnecessary and political bill to ban transgender women and girls in sports.

The governor rightly called that bill “mean,” as there is no problem with transgender girls in high school sports in Louisiana. But meanness was no barrier to generating a veto session driven not by substantive legislative differences, but partisan sloganeering aimed at a narrow base of GOP right-wingers.

That veto was overridden in the Senate with a two-thirds vote without any to spare but failed to get a required two-thirds majority in the House. Good riddance.

What was accomplished? It is possible that members — citizen-legislators dragged back into session by the leadership, many reluctantly — will be averse to challenging Edwards’ vetoes in the two years remaining in his term.

But if holding the veto session at all marked a “victory” against the governor for GOP hardliners, the wider significance is that party allegiance again became the organizing principle of the Legislature.

That’s a real difference and one that Edwards deplored, saying that he thought the public and many legislators did not want to see the State Capitol devolve into the dysfunctional party swamp of the U.S. Capitol.

Is that coming? The state recently has seen the deaths of all its former governors, save the young former Gov. Bobby Jindal. When the four ex-governors gathered in 2012 during Jindal’s term, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Council for a Better Louisiana, they deplored the growing partisan character of politics and particularly that in our State Capitol.

“Louisiana (government) has never been organized along party lines,” Mike Foster said. “That’s one of the better things about Louisiana politics I hope we can keep.”

“We liked each other,” Edwin W. Edwards added. “We got along and we worked together — Republicans and Democrats. Oh, that that philosophy existed in Washington.”

“There was an effort during my term to create that partisan divide,” Kathleen Blanco said. “It never took hard root, but it might be close to that now.”

Almost a decade later, the lady’s words are prophetic. In Baton Rouge, one can see the bad signs in the “historic” veto session of 2021.