All the complex machinations going on for the Louisiana House of Representatives speaker’s position likely boil down to a simple case of maximizing Republican numbers by having a reliable conservative hold down the position.
In a contest, the dynamics of which obviously will remain somewhat unknown until elections have concluded this fall, where current Speaker Pro-Tem Joel Robideaux early seemed to have the clearest path to victory, that got shaken up with the proclamation by state Rep. Jim Fannin that he would throw his hat into the rotunda. Fannin, slightly senior to Robideaux, held down for the last term the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee, the most powerful panel in the House, and thus was a substantially more important policy-maker than Robideaux was in his largely-symbolic office.
At the very least, Fannin cuts out state Rep. Jeff Arnold as the preferred Democrat candidate as he can draw more crossover support from north Louisiana members than can Arnold from the New Orleans area.
As the only announced candidate north of Opelousas, his GOP competitors state Reps. Hunter Greene, Chuck Kleckley, and Erich Ponti with the no-party Robideaux end up splitting the southern part of the state’s vote. This assures Fannin of a place in any runoff.
But it gets complicated here in that these dynamics would produce a Republican v. Democrat runoff, or even a runoff without any Republicans should Robideaux finish first or second in the initial balloting. With an estimated 60 Republicans in the House after the election, as weak as partisanship is in Louisiana legislative politics, allowing for regional voting and personal relations to take precedence in this kind of decision, it is unthinkable that a Republican would not lead the chamber, especially because Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has some outside influence on the process, will want a co-partisan in the job.
The winding down of this Legislature emphasizes that desire. Current Speaker Jim Tucker, perhaps more than any other representative in the chamber’s history, organized Republican interests in it to achieve policy objectives. He also had a solid conservative voting record so, when the time came four years ago with the chamber in partisan numbers then almost evenly divided but in slight favor to Democrats, he lobbied successfully for the job with Jindal’s blessing and some conservative Democrat crossover votes.
And, for the most part, he was faithful to an agenda to which Republicans and/or conservatives could agree during his tenure – until the past year, when he began to make some decisions not consistent with past party or ideological objectives. This was because of his naked political ambition to continue an elective career after term limitation, requiring him to do things that might please other powerbrokers and/or look good for public consumption that clashed with partisan and ideological impulses. This caused headaches for conservatives and Republicans, Jindal in particular who looks set to serve another four years with a new Speaker.
Thus, Jindal will want a speaker less likely to put ambition ahead of ideas, and the more ties that bind, the better he’ll feel about it. On the ideological front, Jindal has little to worry about either Fannin or Robideaux, as on the Louisiana Legislature Log voting record index, which measures a combination of ideology and reform impulse where higher scores mean greater conservatism and reform-mindedness, over this past term Fannin scored on average an 80 and Robideaux a 77.5, way above the average of Democrats but also even above the average of Republicans in the House during that period. Further, neither seems overly ambition for future political careers (although compared to Tucker, who would?).
Still, no doubt Jindal and other Republicans would prefer one of their own in the job to decrease the chance of deviation. Therefore, if either Robideaux or Fannin seem to make significant headway, chances are it’s because of an understanding within the membership that if either of them bangs down the gavel to end the organization session of the body in early January, a party switch, if not already having occurred, will come almost immediately after. Fannin has publicly stated in the past he’s open to the idea, and Robideaux more recently affirmed his willingness.
While some argue Fannin’s announcement really is to ensure he retains his committee chairmanship, if so he’s engaging in unnecessary dramatics. Jindal seems pleased at Fannin’s shepherding to date and certainly would make a condition of support for any candidate that Fannin stay on. And if Fannin’s collecting votes for leveraging sake, why stop at his current position? Assuming his seriousness, from Jindal’s perspective having the contest coalesce around Fannin and Robideaux, provided a switch to the GOP looms, accomplishes the objectives of getting a conservative reformer without overwhelming political ambition into the top spot with the bonus of Republicans picking up another seat. If Jindal can grease the skids for one of these guys at the price of a party switch, all concerned will take that deal instantly.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:25