La. House, Senate elect new leaders as term begins
The Louisiana House elected Republican Clay Schexnayder to be its new House speaker Monday, spurning Attorney General Jeff Landry’s pick for the job in an acrimonious public feud as state lawmakers were seated for their new term.
The House voted 60-45 for Schexnayder, with Democrats backing the Ascension Parish car repair business owner to push him to victory in the majority-GOP chamber, on the tumultuous first day of action for a House packed with dozens of new freshmen.
Schexnayder defeated Republican Sherman Mack, a lawyer from Livingston Parish who had more GOP support.
After being sworn in Monday, state senators unanimously and quickly chose Republican Page Cortez, a former high school football coach and furniture store owner from Lafayette, to be their next president — with no public controversy.
The decision had been worked out weeks earlier in behind-the-scenes negotiations.
Without opposition, the Senate chose Republican Beth Mizell of Franklinton and the House chose Republican Tanner Magee of Houma for their No. 2 jobs, Senate president pro tem and House speaker pro tem.
The divisive House speaker vote threatens to undermine Republican power in the start of a new term when the GOP solidified its hold over the Louisiana Legislature in the fall elections. Republicans won a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate, holding 27 of 39 seats.
In the House, Republicans were elected to 68 of the 105 seats.
But the GOP quickly fractured in the House for the leadership decision.
A majority of House Republicans, along with Landry and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, supported Mack. Landry, seeking to assert his political influence in the House, tried to sideline Democrats entirely from the speaker’s decision, but he and other Mack supporters were unable to rally enough support from the Republican ranks.
Several GOP members suggested Schexnayder represented more independence for the chamber.
The competition grew bitter as the weeks dragged on, with a PAC overseen by Landry and Kennedy running attack ads against some Republicans who refused to support Mack.
In previous terms, legislative leadership decisions have been brokered in backroom negotiations settled days, if not weeks, ahead of the actual vote. Governors often had a heavy hand in the decision-making.
But that changed in the House four years ago, when a dispute over the speaker’s position between Gov. John Bel Edwards and House Republicans raged until the morning of the vote. Edwards’ lost his pick, and the Republican front-runner contender also didn’t win. Little-known Republican Taylor Barras ended up as a compromise among Republicans.
This time, Edwards again had little influence in the competition for legislative leadership jobs.
The House speaker and Senate president have significant sway over the fate of legislation, choosing how to assign bills and picking the leaders and members of each committee in the chamber.
The Legislature will be packed with new faces, as term limits kept many lawmakers from running for reelection. The House has 45 new members, including two former senators.
The Senate is seating 20 new members, 10 of them moving over from House seats.
Meanwhile, the new term offers some historic moments.
Sen. Cameron Henry and Rep. Charles Henry, both Republicans from Jefferson Parish, are the first brothers to serve in the Legislature at the same time. And term limits are ending the Huey Long family’s dynasty, with Republican Gerald Long’s exit from the Senate marking the first time in 100 years that a Long won’t be in an elected Louisiana office.
The House and Senate made history with their selections for their top administrative jobs, choosing Michelle Fontenot as House clerk and Yolanda Dixon as Senate secretary, the first time either position will be held by a female.
Dixon’s election also marks the first time an African American has been chosen for the job.