Feb. 2, 2016 02:16 PM
Never before has the Louisiana House of Representative’s politics been under so much much scrutiny.
Taylor Barras
Photo by Robin May

But with the defeat of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ handpicked speaker candidate, a slew of committee assignments from last week that lean heavily Republican and a set of contentious legislative sessions on tap, all eyes are turned to the lower chamber.

Much of it has to do with a partisan divide that appears to be growing, with Edwards and the Democrats on one side and lawmakers from the Louisiana GOP on the other.

Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, announced last week that he has chosen 12 Republicans to chair 16 of the chamber’s standing committees, giving conservative more control over the House than any other time in recent history.

Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, will chair the budget-drafting Appropriations Committee while Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, is taking over the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Democrats don’t consider Abramson’s appointment an outright win, since he supported Barras for speaker and opposed the candidacy of Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, who was Edwards’ pick.

The governor traditionally has considerable sway over the election of the House speaker and subsequent committee assignments, but Republicans in the House, who have a majority, say they are striking out and grasping independence from the executive branch.

Depending on how this new relationship progresses, Edwards could simply present his budget with his menu of options, which include tax increases, and leave the House alone to find solutions. But he’s expected to be hands on and the imbalance could work to his political favor, Democrats say — the governor will either be able to lay blame at the feet of the independent House or take credit for what it produces.

Reaching 70 votes in the House for constitutional amendments and certain tax measures will be a recurring theme over the next few months and the coming four years. It could force Edwards to rely more on executive orders than any other governor in modern times, but that would certainly water down what he truly wants to accomplish.

Meanwhile on the Senate side, some of their assignments there have business interests and conservatives worried and represents more of a balance compared to House appointments. Most notably, Democrats control the money panels, with Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, over the Finance Committee, which will receive the budget, and Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, chairing the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, which is in charge of tax policy in the upper chamber.

The question is whether a conservative-controlled House heavy on GOP chairs will create a Washington-like gridlock during the upcoming legislative sessions when contrast against a Democratic administration and a Senate with Democratic money chairs.

With the House getting the budget first in the regular session, and taxes having to originate in the lower chamber during the preceding special session, representatives will certainly get the opening shot.

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