Louisiana House GOP urged to pick leader without Democrats
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Two top Louisiana Republicans are urging GOP state House members to pick their next speaker without input from Democrats.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and Attorney General Jeff Landry sent Republican House members a letter suggesting that Democrats shouldn’t have a say in the majority-GOP House’s top leadership job for the new four-year term that begins in January.
Kennedy and Landry oversee a PAC that helped elect several members of the state House.
“The people of Louisiana have spoken. With their votes for senators and representatives, they have sent a clear message on conservative representation. Honoring those votes by ensuring we have a conservative speaker backed by the majority of our majority party in the state House is extremely important,” Kennedy and Landry wrote in the letter sent Monday.
The U.S. senator and attorney general are the top two figures in Louisiana’s Republican Party. They co-chair the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority, a political action committee that raised money to support conservative GOP candidates. The PAC helped Republicans gain a supermajority in the state Senate for the upcoming term and increase its majority in the House to 68 of 105 members.
Kennedy and Landry said they don’t have a preference for which GOP lawmaker becomes House speaker when the vote is held Jan. 13. Several Republicans are vying for the job, with Reps. Sherman Mack of Albany and Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales considered the top two contenders in the behind-the-scenes jockeying for the position.
Landry said they didn’t write to Senate Republicans because it appeared GOP Sen. Page Cortez of Lafayette has locked up the needed votes to win the presidency in the 39-member chamber.
Sen. Rick Ward, a West Baton Rouge Parish Republican who was running for Senate president, agreed that Cortez appeared to have the votes to claim the seat — though Ward cautioned that Cortez needed to keep 20 votes together for another month. That’s a delicate balance when trying to determine committee chairmanships and other leadership positions.
Landry said he and Kennedy reached out to the House Republicans because the leadership selection process seemed further behind, and more fractured.
“I was hearing that there were a number of Republicans who just said, ‘If we don’t have our way, we’re going to negotiate with the Democrats,’” Landry said in a phone interview Tuesday. “If you’re going to run as a Republican, if you’re going to get up on the ballot and wear the party label, you have to be able to act like a Republican.”
The House Republican delegation meets Friday in Baton Rouge, with the speaker’s race expected to be among the top discussions.
Negotiations with the 37 Democratic and independent members could assist a speaker candidate to reach the majority needed to win the top job. Talks across the aisle often have helped determine legislative leadership in prior terms.
But Kennedy and Landry called on Republican lawmakers to attend the Friday gathering, choose among themselves “and come up with a consensus candidate we all may rally behind to advance a conservative agenda.”
“Whatever member is able to gather the majority of Republican votes, should be unanimously nominated and supported by our 68 members,” the two GOP leaders wrote.
Louisiana governors traditionally have had a heavy hand in helping select the House speaker and Senate president. But that changed four years ago with the election of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, when House Republicans bucked his push for a Democratic speaker and selected their own candidate instead. Edwards, who won a second term in the fall elections, again has largely been sidelined in the legislative leadership process ahead of the upcoming term.
The governor said he’s asking individual members to “not have obstructionism masquerading as independence.”
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte