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Gatti, Milkovich act contrary to their party labels

Never before elected to office despite past efforts, they ran against experienced legislators and those House members’ votes for tax increases in 2015 to win Senate seats narrowly in northwest Louisiana. Yet early in their legislative careers, their paths diverged in ways belying their different partisanships.

Democrats received a small amount of cheer from their state Sen. John Milkovich having taken the long-time GOP seat in District 38. Previous runs for office had established him as a social conservative and pronouncements about reining in profligate spending in state government along with a Caddo parish base (his runoff GOP opponent coming from Desoto Parish) gave him enough support for the win. In District 36, Republican state Sen. Ryan Gatti won his contest by relentless criticism of his Republican runoff opponent’s voting record on taxes, alleging he was the “true conservative” in the contest.

However, delving deeper into Gatti’s campaign rhetoric and associations revealed him as somewhat of a Trojan Horse. He criticized state education reforms built upon accountability and school choice, a major conservative policy victory of the past few years. Further, he aided the victorious campaign of his Democrat former classmate and now Gov. John Bel Edwards, leading to fears that he could become a reliable vote for the agenda of one of the most liberal members of the House of Representatives over the previous eight years.

Whether he had carefully constructed a façade of conservatism that led him to serve as an officer of the local GOP he started to answer when last week the Senate dealt with HB 62 by state Rep. Katrina Jackson. The bill came from the House increasing the sales tax one cent, with only one minor exemption, to five cents for 18 months. But a Senate committee stretched out the life of the hike to five years, although it could decline before then if other revenues increased beyond the current base level.

No genuine conservative could approve of such a measure. While understandable to increase it because the state faces a deficit of over $900 million for this fiscal year ending in fewer than four months and a sales tax only could capture a large sum of money in this time span, keeping it any longer than constitutionally required for a short-term emergency – 26 months in this case – only serves Edwards’ plan of growing government. The fig leaf of stepping down the penny increase in quarter increments does nothing to shrink government – Louisiana has the 16th highest per capita spending of the states and District of Columbia – because it sustains the unnecessary higher level of expenditures and serves as a receptacle for trading out with something like income tax increases.

And with a vote for the measure in the full Senate, Gatti demonstrated the emptiness of his campaign slogan, joining several other Republican-in-name-only senators in helping that version of the bill pass, which ended up in unanimous rejection by the House that has it currently subject of a conference committee. It also confirmed his comfort in serving as Edwards’ bootlicker for the next four years, a role a majority of his constituents undoubtedly would not support.

Only nine of the 25 Republicans in the Senate adhered to conservative principles in opposing the bill in that form, joined by a sole Democrat – Milkovich, who seems much more willing than Gatti to put his money where his mouth is. It’s also good politics, for his district as a whole on tax-and-spend issues has similar sentiments to Gatti’s, and voting consistently like this will assure Milkovich of reelection regardless of his party label.

Should these voting patterns continue, it won’t be long before the citizens of District 36 will wish they could trade senators with District 38.

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