La. GOP faces a transition period too

by Jeremy Alford, LaPolitics

With Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter exiting the elected class, there has been some consternation over who will step up to lead the party from a promotional perspective.

As the next governor and Legislature segue into a new term, the Louisiana Republican Party is transitioning into a new era as well.

It’s top leadership role is up for grabs as questions percolate about which elected officials will claim ownership of the party infrastructure.

The roadmap forward is somewhat clearer on the Republican side than the Democratic side, with GOP Chair Roger Villere seeking re-election and some 140 state central committee members who are considered his allies running unopposed on the March 5 ballot.

The state central committee is the guiding body of the party and its members are elected from districts throughout Louisiana. Those members in turn elect the chairman.

There is so far no organized opposition to Villere. There was, however, more of a push to get legislators involved in the RSCC this year, especially from the corner of the House that was displeased with the way the party pushed back on the 2015 tax increases.

The following legislators qualified to run for the state central committee earlier this month: Reps. Lance Harris of Alexandria, Scott Simon of Abita Springs, Barry Ivey of Central, Steve Pugh of Ponchatoula, Joe Lopinto of Metairie, Paul Hollis of Covington, Chris Broadwater of Hammond, Jay Morris of Monroe and Clay Shexnayder of Gonzales; Reps.-elect Beryll Amedee of Houma and Julie Emerson of Carencro; Sen.-elect Beth Mizell of Bogalusa; and Sens. Page Cortez of Lafayette and Neil Riser of Columbia.

With Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter exiting the elected class, there has been some consternation over who will step up to lead the party from a promotional perspective — that person who will help with fundraising and seek to influence key decisions.

Had Vitter won his bid for governor, he would have been that individual, taking Jindal’s place as the ringleader, although Jindal left a void long ago to pursue his presidential ambitions. Since then, Congressman Charles Boustany, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others have stepped up.

Looking ahead, it’ll probably continue to be a team effort. Party leaders right now are breathing a sigh of relief to move beyond a state GOP fractured along Jindal-Vitter lines, and the coming change will allow them to work more efficiently across the spectrum.

Some, though, will have larger roles than others, like Attorney General-elect Jeff Landry, a longtime party activist before he was in elected office. He’s ambitious and sees a future for himself past the A.G. office, and for the party past this transition.

Landry is headlining a fundraiser for the party in January and more is expected. If rank-and-file GOPers are looking anywhere for the next figurehead, it could be Landry, according to central committee members interviewed.

Cassidy is less interested in playing kingmaker, which isn’t his style, but he can be expected to be the other staple of party politics in the years to come, GOP leaders say.

It’s noteworthy that both men have former party staffers on their teams — Austin Stukins, the party’s former political director, is a Landry staffer and James Quinn, a one-time executive director, is Cassidy’s chief of staff.

As for the House Republican Caucus, Rep. Lance Harris of Alexandria has already been re-elected as chairman.

But there may need to be some organizational overhauls should Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, the New Orleans Democrat being backed by the governor-elect, assume the role of speaker next month. Harris will be busy enough on the floor in the coming sessions and a few lawmakers say they’d like to see him select a spokesperson from inside the rails to lead regular opposition press conferences while he leads the caucus.