Governor John Bel Edwards targets conservative leaders, asserts power in vetoes

Edwards removes projects in conservative lawmakers’ districts

By: - June 10, 2021 8:30 am
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Gov. John Bel Edwards (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

Gov. John Bel Edwards pushed back on legislative leaders’ financial power and targeted conservative lawmakers with 12 vetoes to the state budget plan Wednesday night. 

Republican lawmakers could try to override the governor’s budget vetoes Thursday, the final day of their 2021 regular legislative session. The GOP leaders pushed budget bills through the legislative process unusually fast this year in order to give themselves a better opportunity to undo his vetoes if necessary.

But Edwards’ changes are mostly modest.

He erased six projects located in conservative House members’ districts totaling $1.8 million. The projects were spread across House Bill 1 and House Bill 516, both sponsored by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma.

Edwards, a Democrat, took out  $400,000 for a utility substation project in Erath, the hometown of House Republican Caucus Chairman Blake Miguez. He also removed $1 million for roads in Winn Parish, where House Conservative Caucus Chairman Jack McFarland and another conservative representative, Gabe Firment, live. 

The governor erased three projects that touch Republican Rep. Danny McCormick’s district in North Louisiana. These include $50,000 for Bossier Parish recreational improvements, $26,000 for signs in the town of Greenwood and $75,000 for street improvements in the City of Plain Dealing. 

Besides this small group of projects, Edwards left most of the $70 million in lawmakers’ earmarks alone. 

But the governor struck four provisions out of House Bill 1 that would have given the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget — made up of senators and House members involved in the state’s finances — more oversight over state government spending.

This included giving the joint budget committee control over $146.7 million in federal homeowners assistance funding. Edwards said in one of his veto letters that the Legislature was frequently trying to exert power over the executive branch — his own office — that wasn’t allowed by the state constitution. Edwards also restored a $500,000 cut to the Division of Administration through a line-item veto.

The governor is legally required to issue vetoes within 10 days of receiving bills if the legislators are still in session when that window closes. After the veto, the governor has an additional two days — for a total of 12 days overall — to notify the legislators of his decision. This round of vetoes came on the very last day possible under the legal standards. 

In Louisiana, legislative overrides of gubernatorial vetoes are rare. Lawmakers have only voted to override any governor’s veto twice in the modern history of the state — and both occurred well over two decades ago.

The Republican legislative leadership also doesn’t have enough votes to override Edwards’ vetoes on a strictly partisan basis. Republicans make up two-thirds of the members in the Louisiana Senate, but not in the House. The leaders would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers to complete a veto override.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.