Moderate Republicans helped turned the tide in last week’s special session, playing a key role in giving the governor a budget bill he supported.
“I think what you're seeing is those of us in the center trying to build bridges between two polar opposite schools of thought here,” said Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, referring to the hard-line partisan politics that helped define the regular session.
Shadoin and others bucked the conservative House leadership, voting alongside Democrats to pass a spending plan that the governor supported and conservatives opposed.
Conservatives in the House, including the speaker and the head of the House Appropriations Committee Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, wanted to set aside some money next year in hopes of preparing for a possible midyear shortfall.
“With the level of funding that’s included in this budget, you can only anticipate the possibility of some midyear cuts,” said Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia.
The governor, Democrats, and the Senate wanted to spend all the money the state is expected to bring in in hopes of preventing cuts to state agencies.
In the Louisiana House, the GOP dominates. There are 61 Republicans compared to 41 Democrats and three independents. On Wednesday, during the budget debate on the House floor, ten of those Republicans broke ranks, joining with the Democrats and two independents in support of an amendment that would put the budget in a form backed by the governor. Combined, they had 53 votes – the bare minimum needed to amend the bill.
Those ten Republicans were:
Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond
Rep. Bubba Chaney, R-Rayville
Rep. Patrick Connick, Marrero
Rep. John Guinn, R-Jennings
Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson
Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma
Rep. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs
Rep. Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston
Rep. Joseph Stagni, R-Kenner
Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner
The Independents were:
Rep. Terry Brown, I-Colfax
Joseph Marino, I-Gretna
On final passage, four additional Republicans broke ranks, joining the ten others in voting for the bill. They were:
Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge
Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe
Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central
Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma
The budget passed 56-46. Three lawmakers were absent.
So why did they break ranks? The theories vary. Some point to the horrible news from that morning: Congressman Steve Scalise had been shot.
“For something like that to happen on a day that we were probably going to have more tense discussion did I think add a little bit of a step-back moment for lots of folks,” said Barras.
Others pointed to session fatigue: lawmakers were tired after more than two months at the capitol and wanted to vote for a deal that would get them out the door.
“We had been in session for a long time now, and sometimes you just don't get legislative compromise until you have to, until you're forced to,” said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.
The question remains as to whether this moderate group will survive and continue to be a game changer going forward. Some say the probability is not very high and will likely vary based on the issue at hand.
“That middle is kind of a shifting coalition, you may have a lot on this one, and not so much here,” said Shadoin.
The group could soon have a chance to prove if they have staying power. Lawmakers will likely come back in for a special session sometime in the next few months to deal with the fiscal cliff. That special session will likely include passing taxes. Those bills require 70 votes, which is far more votes than they have.
“That is not impossible but it is difficult,” said Shadoin.