Nathan Stubbs

House divided: the widening gulf between state lawmakers

by Nathan Stubbs

Fiscal policy and how to handle drastic revenue shortfalls dominated the recently ended state legislative session; it also revealed a growing divide among veteran lawmakers, who dominate the state Senate, and the freshmen newcomers who now comprise a majority in the House. The issue is the subject of today’s Inside Report in The Advocate by op-ed writer Lanny Keller, titled, “Hard feelings might linger in Legislature.” Keller quotes two men who ought to know, Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp and House Clerk Butch Speer, about the frustrations felt by both sides of the aisle in trying to work together through the recent session.
The Senate’s members are 'overwhelmingly experienced' compared with new House members brought in for the first time in 2007 when term limits kicked in, Speer said. It is not just a problem of communication, he added: 'You have people who don’t speak the same language.' Veterans of the legislative process are typically more amenable to inevitable give-and-take in a legislative body, Speer said. He also noted that Gov. Bobby Jindal and many young Republicans now serving in the House are more conservative than their predecessors.

One view is that 'the only way to shrink government is to stop feeding it,' Speer said, calling 'visceral beliefs' of younger members part of a culture clash with senators.

'The Senate attitude is, ‘How do we make this work,’ and the House or at least the controlling majority are saying, ‘We don’t want it to work,’ ' Speer said.

In a related story, Independent Weekly contributor Peep Goat reports this week that the recent session also showed a fissure developing within the Acadiana delegation and the tight-knit group of Sen. Mike Michot and state Reps Joel Robideaux and Page Cortez. Michot was unable to convince Robideaux and Cortez to go along with a plan he pushed to restore more funding to healthcare and higher ed, partly through a delayed tax break.

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.'

Read Peep Goat’s full column in tomorrow’s Independent.