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Louisiana Lawmakers Vie For Leadership Roles After Departures of Barras, Alario

The Louisiana Legislature is days away from the start of a new term. Monday morning, lawmakers will gavel in the 2020 Organizational Session.

Once, everyone is sworn in, lawmakers will set committees and, most notably, elect new leaders.

Campaigns for Speaker of the House and Senate President are fought outside of the public eye and have been underway for months.

Q: So, before we get into this year’s leadership races, give us a little background on how the process has traditionally play out, and how that has changed in recent years.

Yeah, the House Speaker is one of the most powerful positions in state government in Louisiana. It’s a very coveted position. It oftentimes involves months of closed-door campaigning.

The Governor in Louisiana more or less handpicked the House Speaker and Senate President for decades. But when Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, won four years ago, Republicans who dominate the state legislature decided they weren’t going to play along with that anymore. They decided to choose their own leader—Taylor Barras—who is now term-limited.

Now they’re going through growing pains, trying to find the next Speaker.

Q: Who are the frontrunners in that race and how did they come to be in that position today?

There have been several names thrown around for the past few months, but in the last month or two, Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, and Sherman Mack, R-Albany, have emerged as the frontrunners.

You know, a lot of Republican leaders have wanted this to be a Republican decision. They have more than the 53 votes that they need to choose their own speaker by themselves on January 13. But it appears that the Republican delegation is split on Schexnayder and Mack, and neither of them can get the 53 they need from just Republicans.

Q: You hinted at it a little bit there, but how have outside influences affected the contest?

So, there are two big Republican leaders, Attorney General Jeff Landry and Senator John Kennedy. They have really made their voices heard on the Speaker’s race. Landry and Kennedy wanted Republicans to meet behind closed doors and vote on which candidate they were going to support. And the idea was that after that vote, all the Republicans would line up behind that candidate.

But that’s not how it happened.

They did have a vote, and Sherman Mack won about 39 votes, but Schexnayder is still in the race.

Q: So, is there any preference among Democrats who, because Republicans are breaking ranks, now have a little bit more influence than they initially thought?

The Democrats are going to meet, similar to how the Republican Delegation met last month. They will likely discuss this topic and try to come up with a consensus candidate.

As of now, both Schexnayder and Mack say they’ve talked to Democrats. Mack even insists that he has the 53 votes he needs locked up right now. It’s unclear if that’s true, and if Democrats meet this week and decide they have a consensus candidate, they could swing the election.

Q: In the time we have left, tell us a little bit about the race in the Senate. It has been much quieter, but who are we likely to see take over for John Alario?

Page Cortez appears to have locked up the votes he needed about a month or two ago, and that put the race to bed. That’s why we haven’t seen a whole lot of stories or horse trading going on in the state Senate.

Copyright 2021 WRKF. To see more, visit WRKF.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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