Louisiana House Speaker punishes lawmakers over failed veto override

House Democrats lose leadership positions after siding with the governor

By: - July 30, 2021 7:06 pm
Speaker gives Louisiana House day off while asking judge for more redistricting time

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator).

Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, has punished Democrats and independent legislators who sided with Gov. John Bel Edwards over Schexnayder in the state’s veto override session earlier this month.

The Speaker has removed two Democrats — Reps. Chad Brown of Plaquemine and Vincent Pierre of Lafayette – from their positions as chairmen of the House insurance and transportation committees respectively.

That likely leaves House Democrats — the minority party — in charge of just three committees instead of the five they controlled at the beginning of Schexnayder’s four-year term in 2020. The Speaker hasn’t said who is going to replace the Democrats yet, but it is expected to be two Republican lawmakers.

The Speaker also pulled Rep. Roy Daryl Adams, a legislator from Jackson affiliated with no political party, from the House Appropriations Committee. The Appropriations Committee is a coveted assignment because it allows lawmakers more power to shape the state budget.

Rep. Travis Johnson, D-Vidalia, was also taken off the House Transportation Committee.

Schexnayder spent the week privately talking with lawmakers he planned to punish. His staff confirmed the committee reshuffling Friday afternoon.

Schexnayder had pushed very publicly for a veto override session. He said he was confident he could get the votes to undo the governor’s veto of a bill that would have placed restrictions on transgender women and girls who wanted to play sports. In the end, though, he ended up two votes short of the 70 votes he needed to overturn the governor’s decision.

The Republicans don’t have enough members to reach the 70-vote threshold for a veto override by themselves. And the Speaker wasn’t able to convince enough Democrats or independents to side with the GOP over Edwards, the state’s most powerful Democrat.

Brown, Adams and Johnson are likely being punished because they were thought to be swing votes on the veto override. They had all voted for the legislation during the regular session, and they were heavily lobbied by both Schexnayder and Edwards up until a few minutes before the override vote took place.

Edwards said he offered incentives to those legislators on the fence about the vote — possibly extra support or projects for their districts — in order to help sway their minds. Johnson, who holds a leadership position in the state Democratic Party, was also threatened with punishment within the party if he didn’t side with the governor.

Soon after the vote, Adams said he ended up voting against a veto override because of immense pressure from the governor’s office, though he wouldn’t specify what that pressure was.

Brown said he voted against the override, in part, because he was angry that Republicans cut off discussion of the veto override on the House floor right before the vote took place. A few Democrats had wanted to explain their votes on the bill publicly — but weren’t given an opportunity to do so.

Democrats released a short statement calling Schexnayder’s actions “inexplicable” and said the moves would make the legislature “more partisan and less effective.” House Democratic Caucus chairman Sam Jenkins, of Shreveport, lost his wife this week, and Democrats said in their statement that they’ll say more about Schexnayder’s actions next week, after Jenkins , has had more time to recover from her death.

Schexnayder’s decision to remove legislators from their committee assignments isn’t unusual or unexpected.

Govs. Kathleen Blanco and Bobby Jindal both famously got lawmakers removed from their committee assignments after the legislators had displeased them.

In the spring, Schexnayder also removed Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, after Garofalo repeatedly ignored Schexanyder’s requests that Garofalo sideline legislation regarding the teaching of racism and sexism in Louisiana schools.

Earlier this week, Edwards also announced that he pulled Rep. Francis Thompson — the only Democrat to vote for the veto override — from a southern regional education board. Thompson is the longest-serving lawmaker in the Louisiana Legislature and had been on the board for decades.

The Louisiana Legislature has a years-long tradition of letting Democrats lead legislative committees, even when the Democrats aren’t in power.

Republicans have a supermajority in the Senate for example, but Democrat Cleo Fields, of Baton Rouge, leads the House Education Committee and Democrat Gary Smith, of Norco, leads the House Judiciary B Committee.

Still, the House Democrats had been given many plum committee assignments this term because they were integral to Schexnayder coming to power. Much of the House Republican Caucus had backed another, more conservative House member for the job. Schexnayder only became Speaker because the Democrats threw their support behind him. In exchange, they were given control over some more desirable committees.

The veto override session appears to have further strained Schexnayder’s uneasy alliance with the House Democrats, though — and bolstered his standing with the Republican Party.

Louisiana’s Republican Party chairman Louis Gurvich has often criticized Schexnayder, but he offered some tepid praise for him Friday evening.

“We are very pleased with the Speaker’s actions,” Gurvich said in a written statement. “While this change is an important step in the right direction, we feel strongly that the replacements for these two chairs, as well as any other committee chairs which become open, must be Republicans.”

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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 NOLA.com | 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.