If nothing else, the recent inert veto session, but which nearly overturned a Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards veto, set the stage for inexperienced legislative Republicans not just to govern, but to govern with impunity. But as with everything in life, for that to happen all depends on the execution.
With the state’s history of gubernatorial meddling in legislative affairs (keeping in mind that this largely is self-inflicted; in a strict accounting of formal powers the Louisiana governor’s are not remarkable, but traditionally the Legislature has allowed him to flex informal powers that magnify these), as well as having been a minority party for about a century-and-a-half until the last decade that atrophied their ability to lead, the majority Republicans may be excused for not getting it together. Additionally hampering them, the state’s blanket primary system creates more challenges for coalescing around a conservative agenda, as it enables election of those to the majority who dissent to some degree with that.
However, if allowed to flourish, the dynamics that produced the veto session can translate into unimpeachable conservative agenda success, as witnessed in all the states that surround Louisiana. Two separate immediate tasks are involved here: creating a legislative party with increased loyalty to a conservative agenda by having voters shed unreliable members, and increasing the number in that party with that presumed loyalty, in time for 2023 elections.
Two methods – one in essence a short-term bonus – can accomplish this. The transitory one is reapportionment, typically available as a policy tool only every two or three election cycles. It can draw districts to put pressure on disloyal members and to create districts that will flip to the majority.
For 2011, Republicans had bare chamber majorities but also benefitted from the GOP’s Gov. Bobby Jindal in office, which led to chamber maps that didn’t really favor either party. In 2021, with a Senate two-thirds supermajority and House near that supermajority, expect a map much more to the party’s favor, especially as it could find common cause with black Democrats where both groups can create more districts for themselves, at the expense of the few white Democrats left.
Edwards may stand in the way of that with a veto, but he has much less leverage than it seems, for two reasons. If the GOP and black Democrats unite, any such veto would be overridden. But even if party ends up more important than party and race and Edwards and all House Democrats block plans favorable to Republicans, if an impasse occurs the matter falls to the Louisiana Supreme Court. And a quick look at the partisan affiliations of the justices (five Republicans, one Democrat, one no party) shows any maps it produces will favor Republicans. Veto of plans advantageous to Republicans (whether these also help black Democrats) will not stop reapportionment that eventually favors Republicans.
That said, grandiose ideas of how reapportionment can boost GOP fortunes need tempering. It’s not simply a matter of noting how a couple of white Democrats in adjacent districts can have their boundaries packed and cracked to produce a big majority black and big majority white district that likely means a Republican and black Democrat victor in 2023. Lines are like dominoes where even some minor realigning can have ripple effects a dozen districts away in ways detrimental to incumbent Republicans who won’t countenance that. Certainly, Republicans should use this tool, but alone it may not boost enough seats in both chambers (more so the House) to produce GOP supermajorities.
Rather, the battle-tested replacement strategy will: beat Democrats in districts whose demographics suggest Republican majorities. That includes every district in the state with a white majority of at least 60 percent with the exception of HD 98 so chock full of limousine liberals that it likely wouldn’t flip (although it could be redistricted out of existence to create a majority black district).
There’s little mileage out of that in the Senate, because there’s only one district like that: SD 19 occupied by Democrat state Sen. Gary Smith, and he’s term-limited with the likelihood if the district remains intact a Republican will win it regardless. However, the House has five such districts, none of whose occupants are term-limited: Democrat state Reps. Chad Brown, Mac Cormier, and Jeremy LaCombe, and no party state Reps. Roy Daryl Adams and Malinda White.
The GOP legislative leadership simply has to bring at least the two issues around which the legislative party rallied to prompt the veto session back to the floor next year and even the year after: anti-discrimination legislation against female athletes and permit-less concealed carry. This would force those five to go on the record multiple times (and even if they ducked the votes opponents could sue that against them) concerning these issues, either forcing them to do the right thing or let them dig deeper and deeper holes for reelection, because the majority of their constituents won’t be happy if they don’t vote for these things, and they will remember that (with some helpful reminder from GOP opponents in 2023).
In the Senate, these and other bills brought up regularly can reinforce loyalty among Republicans, with those failing the test becoming ripe for replacement by more reliable Republican challengers. From the veto session, in particular GOP state Sen. Patrick Connick has made himself vulnerable by failure to back up his approval of concealed carry without unnecessary regulation, and Republican state Sens. Louie Bernard and Franklin Foil exceptionally so by doing the same. (A similar dynamic works with the one Republican state Rep. Joe Stagni who effectively voted against the anti-discrimination bill both occasions.)
And not only should these kinds of bills resurface prior to 2024, but so should veto sessions. Keep making recalcitrant legislators tell the world what they believe, repeatedly, and they might wilt.
Other means can work as well to convince non-Republicans to support bills like these in the next two years. Committee assignments including leadership positions, capital outlay items, and treatment of legislation all can be used to put pressure on Democrats and faithless Republican legislators.
But the main lesson Republicans must draw from the session is that Democrats and their fellow travelers can’t be reasoned with. Especially those that defected from the regular session to veto session votes – all of the three Democrats in Republican-friendly districts and Adams, while White ducked the veto session – who show they will put party ahead of principle, or who faked principle all along only to be blindsided by the veto session’s emergence, demonstrate their loyalty to the far left agenda backed by Edwards. Plus, having already put scarlet letters by their names, they may calculate politically that a change back, another flip-flop, won’t win them much redemption in the eyes of their districts’ majorities, so they won’t backtrack no matter how many chances they have.
Simply, because these people disregard reason and often principle in the process in favor of party and pork, they must be defeated. And the above strategy – critical votes forced time and time again against a backdrop of reapportionment that helps Republicans – maximizes the chances of more secure Republican legislative supermajorities in 2024 and beyond.