For the past two years, many have commented on the cohesiveness of the Lafayette legislative delegation; as being one of the most unified in history. After all, Sen. Mike Michot had single handedly urged and supported Rep. Joel Robideaux in the state House race to replace Jerry Luke Leblanc. Then, Michot and Robideaux had laid it all on the line to support Page Cortez against Pat Leblanc in the race to replace Ernie Alexander. The budget battles of this past session may have created the first cracks in that relationship.
Michot, chairman of the Finance Committee, was widely praised in higher education and health care circles as being the only legislative leader to craft a budget plan which would minimize cuts on higher ed and health care by using small withdrawals from multiple dedicated fund balances (budget stabilization, Medicaid stabilization, etc.) so as to not deplete any of those funds, and avoid the impact of those cuts on health care and higher education. The proposed cuts had something historic in managing to unite all former living governors at a press conference (except Edwin Edwards) to urge Jindal and the Legislature to use the resources available to restore them. However, when the Senate/Michot plan, which restored a vast majority of higher ed and health care’s cuts using $280 million from multiple funds, was sent to the House for a vote, Robideaux and Cortez stuck with House Speaker Jim Tucker in his opposition to the Senate plan and voted against it. Locally, Reps Fred Mills, Sam Jones and Ricky Hardy all broke ranks with the House leadership and supported the Michot plan. The plan affected restoration for the $30 million in health care cuts and $23 million in higher ed cuts affecting Lafayette — an estimated 500 jobs at risk.
Since the plan fell only a handful of votes short of passage, Lafayette health care leaders and ULL officials were dismayed at the actions of Robideaux and Cortez in sticking with the overtly partisan Tucker over their home town colleague and delegation dean Michot. Said one involved local political observer, “We supported Cortez because Ernie Alexander proudly voted down party lines with Jim Tucker, even if it meant a negative impact on UL and Lafayette. Cortez appears to be Ernie Lite. Robideaux was a swing vote — had he supported the Senate plan, he likely would have pulled enough Acadiana votes with him to allow the Senate version to pass.”
For his part, Michot has been very quiet about the votes of his House colleagues. But interestingly, there were no joint statements or press conferences from the three on the accomplishments of the session, suggesting a chill in the relationship. While an 11th-hour compromise was reached between the House and Senate on the session’s final day , it fell far short in its restoration to higher ed and health care than the Senate plan would have.