The Louisiana Capitol Building, April 8, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator).
A faction of GOP members wants the Louisiana Senate to block the appointment of former Sen. Ronnie Johns, a Republican, as the state’s top gambling regulator. Johns skipped last year’s veto override session that Republican members of the Legislature called, a decision some consider disloyalty to the party.
Johns’ critics pushed a resolution at the Republican State Central Committee meeting Saturday to request the GOP-controlled Senate block Johns’ appointment to lead the Gaming Control Board. The resolution ultimately failed because the committee didn’t have enough members in attendance at the meeting to take a vote.
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There are 230 people on the committee, and representatives for only 90 votes were still in attendance when the resolution came up for a vote. Some attendees were voting for multiple members by proxy.
Right before the resolution on Johns was to be debated, Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, asked the committee for a quorum call to check if enough voting members were present. Hewitt is the head of the senate committee that will vote whether to confirm Johns as a gambling regulator.
As a senator, Johns was well-liked, respected and considered honest and fair by colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He is also a big booster for the gambling industry and was not shy about wanting the gambling regulator position. Casinos are among the biggest employers and an economic engine in Lake Charles, which Johns represented.
Johns could not be reached for comment Saturday.
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Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards nominated Johns to lead the Gaming Control Board in late July soon after Johns sidestepped the politically contentious veto override legislative session. Johns, who was still a state senator at the time, said he could not attend the historic veto override session because he was recovering from surgery.
In the session, Republican leaders attempted but failed to overturn Edwards’ vetoes of legislation related to transgender athletes and gun rights. Republican activists accused Johns of sitting the session out so he could avoid offending the governor, whose support Johns needed to get his new job, and Republican senators who will have to confirm his appointment this year.
In the end, Johns’ presence at the veto session likely wouldn’t have made a difference. The gun rights legislation was more than one ballot short in the Senate of having the support it needed for an override. The transgender athlete legislation passed the Senate, but failed in the Louisiana House.
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