Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards is in a pickle, politically speaking, which is a heck of a note since he won’t take office for another month. How did he get there, you might ask? It’s simple. Or simple arithmetic since the pickle position in question concerns counting votes.
Before Edwards had the votes lined up to anoint the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, he declared Rep. Walt Leger of New Orleans should get the job. A Leger speakership seems a bit odd since Leger is a fairly liberal Democrat while almost 60 percent of the legislative districts in the House will be represented by Republicans when the new Legislature takes office the same day Edwards takes the oath to succeed Gov. Bobby Jindal.
There are a host of issues, or problems, with Edwards drawing a line in the sand, so to speak, over his man getting the Speaker gig, beginning with perception and ending with some good old-fashioned horse trading, which is sure to anger the base of Edwards’ party, the Democrat Party.
Reportedly there are roughly 50 Republicans in the House who are firm in their support for Rep. Cameron Henry’s bid to become Speaker. Henry, of course, is a Republican, and a conservative Republican at that. That means there are about a dozen Republicans in the House who are considered approachable as far as their votes in a hypothetical Speaker’s election are concerned.
In other words, there are about a dozen Republicans — or more — who would be willing to trade their votes for something of value. That’s a rather rough way to put it, but let’s face it. If a Republican member of the House would forsake his party in order to lock up a committee chairmanship or keep his vaunted Pentagon Barracks apartment under a Democrat Speaker, ladies and gentlemen you would be staring at a Republican who’s willing to sell his vote. Which is entirely understandable since politics is at the heart of this discussion.
In an ideal situation, Edwards would put the Speaker issue to bed. Soon. Very soon. Because the last thing Edwards needs is for a Speaker’s election to be held on his first day in office. How would it appear in the eyes of the public if a new governor failed to elect his choice for Speaker? What would the governor’s political detractors think? Think about it.
For Republicans who are insistent that the next Speaker be one of them, they had better hold firm and work their caucus. If push comes to shove, they should demand the House take a roll call vote to elect a Speaker. That way, any Republicans who stray from the pasture must make their positions known publicly. And suffer the consequences in the next election.
In the meantime, Edwards should recognize he’s already sent mixed signals to the electorate, including many independents and moderate Republicans who played a significant role in helping him land some 56 percent of the vote in the November general election. Remember, Edwards presented himself to the voters as a pro-life Democrat who believes in the Second Amendment.
If that’s true, why did the governor-elect settle on a Democrat for Speaker who’s got a track record of supporting abortion and anti-gun legislation? It’s also important that Edwards recognize every favor he extends and every position or chairmanship he promises in order to secure votes for Leger, represents political capital he’s wasting before he even takes office. Before he even entertains a budget bill in which votes, one way or another, become very, very valuable. Or expensive.
Then there’s the issue with Edwards’ core base of support in the Democrat Party. Wonder how they feel about the governor-elect possibly cutting deals with Republicans? Not good, I can assure you. Yet, it is what it is. And Edwards has managed to paint himself into a corner, and the only way out is certain to produce consequences that will haunt him for the next four years. A rough start, to be sure.
Sam Hanna is a state political writer.