Jim Beam column:GOP power grab continues

Published 7:33 am Sunday, April 24, 2022

Republicans have strong control of the Legislature and they seem hell-bent on weakening the powers of Louisiana’s governor. They have made it clear for nearly six years now that they especially don’t like the idea that a Democrat has held that office.

The next governor who takes office in 2024 is expected to be a Republican unless Democrats can come up with another Gov. John Bel Edwards. If the current GOP legislators are successful in dethroning governors, perhaps they really don’t care who gets the job.

Budget debate that took place in the House Thursday made it clear Republican leaders will go to any lengths to achieve their goal. They want to take away the governor’s authority to maintain the State Capitol complex and major events that come to the state like the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four.

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Legislation sponsored by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, would give the lieutenant governor responsibility for the State Capitol, the Capitol annex, the Old Arsenal Magazine Museum, and the historic Pentagon Barracks. However, whatever the lieutenant governor does would be subject to the authority and direction of the speaker of the House and president of the Senate.

Schexnayder said he wants to make a change because the governor’s administration has done a poor job maintaining the Capitol complex. He said it has nothing to do with his possible run for lieutenant governor in 2023.

 Jay Dardenne, state commissioner of administration, whose office is responsible for those four landmarks, said Schexnayder’s plan makes no sense. He said having the president of the Senate and speaker of the House directing how the lieutenant governor maintains the complex gives the legislative branch control over a statewide office in the executive branch, a possible constitutional conflict.

It’s going to cost $1 million or more, he said, and called it “growing government” and “duplicating services,” something Republicans gripe about all the time.

Thursday’s debate got down to talking about an elevator system that needs work, flushing toilets, and water issues.

Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington, is sponsoring legislation that goes one step further than Schexnayder. He wants to also transfer the state Department of Economic Development to the lieutenant governor’s office. His legislation is still awaiting committee action.

Some legislators obviously believe the lieutenant governor doesn’t have enough to do. He has 29 statutory duties, which include leading the state Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism.

Dardenne didn’t say so, but he offered an excellent explanation during budget debate Thursday about why what Republicans are trying to do is simply spiteful politics. Dardenne, a Republican, endorsed Edwards in the 2015 gubernatorial runoff and some in the GOP never got over their resentment.

The fact that Dardenne has served as lieutenant governor gives him credibility in this situation. He knows what the position involves.

Republicans have also tried for three years to curb Edwards’ power over the state’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Now they are trying the third time.

Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, squeaked a bill out of a House committee with a 6-5 vote that would make it possible for the Legislature to terminate a governor’s declaration of an emergency or any portions of the declaration. It is scheduled for debate in the House Monday. Edwards vetoed a similar bill by Frieman in 2021.

Edwards was the target when members of the House filed a petition to curb his coronavirus powers. The court ruled for Edwards. The governor also vetoed a similar bill by Wright after a 2020 special session.

The governor and state Department of Health officials have done a great job managing the coronavirus pandemic. Had those bills succeeded, Edwards said in one of his vetoes, “I need not provide here how catastrophic the pandemic may have been in Louisiana …”

Wright also has a proposed constitutional amendment awaiting committee action that would remove the governor’s authority to veto line items in appropriation bills. The line-item veto of appropriation bills is considered a way that governors and legislators share spending responsibilities.

Forty-four states give their governors some form of line-item veto power, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The exceptions are Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont, none of them in the South.

Louisiana has had the line-item veto since 1879. Maine was the 44th state to adopt the line-item veto in 1995.

Republicans aren’t going to give up their crusade against Edwards, but he is going to be governor for another year and a half. Nothing the GOP can do is going to change that.