Louisiana Senate Democrats would rather inject divisive partisan politics than stand by superior legislation they once supported, all for reasons of politics rather than principle – joined by a few Republicans-in-Name-Only that in a couple of cases leads one to wonder what inducements Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards offered them to change their votes.
That lesson came through the Senate’s consideration of bills vetoed by Edwards, after taking up five vetoed bills. Eleven Democrats voted both on Senate final passage and on override consideration, while newcomer Democrat state Sen. Gary Carter had voted on final passage in the House and was the only of the bunch to have voted against consistently.
In order, starting with SB 156 by Republican state Sen. Beth Mizell, the most discussed of the vetoes and the only one gaining a successful override vote, four Democrats flipped to oppose the override: Regina Barrow, Katrina Jackson, Gary Smith, and Greg Tarver. Not a single one took to the floor to explain what had changed in less than a month-and-a-half to make them switch from support to opposition. All Republicans held the line on the bill that would prevent discrimination against females in scholastic and collegiate sports on the basis of sex.
Next came another oft-discussed veto, that of SB 118 by GOP state Sen. Jay Morris that would allow state government regulation of concealed carried firearms for the vast majority of adults. Smith, the only Democrat supporting it initially, defected again to join all Democrats.
The last three brought to a vote all had passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, meaning almost if not all Democrats had supported these. SB 203 by Republican state Sen. Bodi White loosened ethics laws regarding a capitol-area local panel and frankly was a bad idea worth a veto, but significantly while only Barrow had opposed it during the regular session, she was joined by all Democrats in opposing the override.
SB 220 and SB 224, both by GOP state Sen. Heather Cloud, would have tightened up election integrity by with the former having records kept longer and audits of elections performed as chosen by the Legislative Auditor and the latter by strengthening currently weak identification requirements for ballots outside of the chain of custody. Neither had any opposition on final passage, but this time all Democrats voted against each.
The unprincipled nature of Senate Democrats’ objections became shockingly naked with Cloud’s bills. The nature of Edwards’ objections on these were, in turn, obvious truth denial followed by absolute silliness. For SB 220, he alleged cost aspects had been ignored, when in fact these had been debated openly, as Cloud confirmed. And for SB 224, he laughably asserted that the measure had been done in haste when in reality it weathered hours of debates over weeks in multiple committees and floor appearances, the record shows. These non-reasons gave no excuse at all for 11 of 12 Senate Democrats suddenly to change their minds on any intellectual basis.
This isn’t all that surprising. Long ago shorn of its intellectual respectability by noncompliant historical events and data, liberalism has devolved into an emotional appeal designed to acquire power and privilege for elites. Liberal Democrats have no principle other than to maximize command and control, and their legislative voting behavior follows that when push comes to shove as in this instance.
Which they hadn’t anticipated. During the regular session, on some issues they thought they would get a pass by making themselves appear to be something that they aren’t by voting for these measures. They figured they had free reign, knowing a veto would come to reflect their true preferences. But they didn’t see the veto session coming that would out them by their votes to allow Edwards to compete against the ascendant conservative agenda. By those votes, they showed us who they are: against women, for restricting Second Amendment rights, and against election integrity.
However, they won’t pay much of a political price. Almost all come from districts safe for Democrats that won’t change much in upcoming reapportionment, and the most threatened of them, Smith, is term-limited. This lack of accountability for their unprincipled flip-flopping explains exactly why they felt they could get away with it.
That’s not quite the case with the GOP defectors. Had Republicans senators held the line, everything would have been overridden – even with term-limited GOP state Sen. Ronnie Johns taking a powder, in preparation for his likely accepting an appointment in the Edwards Administration. Yet that scenario played out only on SB 156 because the handful of less-conservative Republicans – Louie Bernard, Patrick Connick, Fred Mills, and Rick Ward – knew that regardless of how they felt the constituent blowback would cripple even the last two years of their term, which will be the last two for both Mills and Ward, if not do harm to the reelection chances of Bernard and Connick.
In fact, Connick even admitted to some wariness over his vote to override this bill’s veto, when offering a rationale for his negative override vote on SB 118, saying he disliked voting against Edwards but constituent pressure was too much. Notably, all but Connick had started their elected careers as Democrats.
Three of the above voted against an override on at least one of the other four bills: Bernard on SB 118 and SB 220, Connick on SB 118 and SB 203, and Mills on SB 220. And two essentially cast a negative ballot when they took walks on SB 203 (Ward), SB 220 (Connick), and SB 224 (Connick, Ward). (On one bill Mizell also didn’t vote, but she likely knew the flop and abstention were coming.)
With Mills and Ward term-limited, they knew they could avoid future voters’ wrath and gave no explanations for their flips and/or inaction. Bernard and Connick, in their first terms, are a different story and both tried to explain away – unconvincingly – their alleged changes of heart on SB 118. Connick claimed in his district law enforcement opinion was against it, which he seemed oddly unaware of when he voted for it. Given the nature of Jefferson Parish politics – following the path downwards and leftwards indicative of declining mature suburbs nationally and given its GOP politicians’ and many identifiers’ lingering infatuation with Edwards – he might well not suffer voter retribution.
By contrast, with his votes Bernard made himself the most endangered Republican in the 2023 cycle. Compelled like Connick to dredge up an excuse for not voting for SB 118, Bernard claimed he hadn’t paid attention to the bill when he first voted for it, but somehow since then he had discovered it was supposedly risky to have untrained individuals carrying concealed firearms.
All his statement did was reveal him admitting to being incapable of the job because of his lack of attentiveness, and that he still can’t stay focused, because the speaker preceding him, Morris, already had shredded Bernard’s argument by noting the state didn’t mandate training for open carry or carry in vehicles, so it was hypocritical to deem training necessary for concealed carry. You decide: Bernard inattentive or idiot?
And Bernard, having formerly served as a clerk of court which means membership on the parish election board, should know better than just about anybody the things that could go wrong in coming up with an accurate vote count that an audit could catch. Bernard, who last year showed how wobbly he was as a conservative on tort reform but who was whipped into line by leadership, needs to draw a conservative opponent in two years to pound him on this.
That he got away with it points the finger at a final culpable figure for sabotaging good conservative legislation – GOP Senate Pres. Page Cortez. He and Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder had proclaimed they will do little lifting to override anything. They’ve shown they have the chops to succeed when they want something passed, as witnessed with last year’s tort reform, but deliberately have sat these out.
By the failure to explain their switches, it's clear integrity means little to Senate Democrats who starkly put politics ahead of principle on these matters, but neither is it unexpected. Sadly, a handful of Senate Republicans acted the same or, worse, engaged in botched excuse-making that should draw constituent ire.