Louisiana’s new GOP legislative leaders talk of compromise


Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, the governor’s chief budget adviser, left; House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, center; and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, speak ahead of a meeting of Louisiana’s income forecasting panel on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Louisiana’s new Republican House speaker and Senate president say they want to work with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, even as they stress legislative independence.

The comments Tuesday from House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez struck a compromising tone.

The men were speaking to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry a month after winning their new leadership jobs.

Republicans made strong gains in the fall elections, increasing their majorities in both chambers. But Schexnayder and Cortez didn’t suggest those gains should sideline the governor’s influence in the legislative process.

“Clay and I have a similar appreciation for teamwork and for working together. He and I constantly talked about working with the governor. And I’m going to tell you that if we work together and we don’t work with the governor, then it’s going to be fatal, the state won’t move forward,” Cortez said.

Schexnayder told business leaders assembled at the annual meeting of the powerful Louisiana Association of Business and Industry that lawmakers “want to be able to work with the governor.”

“I think that’s the way we move the state forward,” he said.

Cortez won his position with the unanimous support of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, but Democrats made the difference for Schexnayder, voting as a bloc along with some of the chamber’s Republicans to make him speaker.

The change in tone will be a striking one , for the House in particular. Edwards had a strong alliance with last term’s Republican Senate president, John Alario. But he frequently sparred with the GOP’s former House speaker, Taylor Barras, and other Republican leaders in the chamber — a four-year span that saw repeated stalemates over budget and tax issues.

While Schexnayder and Cortez talked of bipartisan collaboration, the new Senate president also cautioned that Edwards needs to acknowledge the strong GOP majorities he’ll be working with in each chamber. The Senate has a more than two-thirds Republican majority that can override an Edwards veto if GOP lawmakers vote together, while the House is two votes short of that mark.

“I just don’t think it makes good sense for us to pass bills that he’s not going to sign. Now, the flip side of that is if the Legislature has a mandate that we’re passing this bill out, I don’t think it makes good sense on his part to veto something that comes out with almost unanimous consent,” said Cortez, of Lafayette.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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