Compromise Caucus A Grand Experiment

Bernie Pinsonat of Southern Media and Opinion Research is fond of saying, “If you’re in the middle in Louisiana politics then you’re roadkill.”

Things do tend to die if they piddle around too much in the middle of Louisiana’s highways, both conventionally and politically paved. It's just too easy to become a target if you’re in the middle of the road. Plain and simple.

But there’s a quiet and likely small movement afoot in the state Legislature that dispenses with such notions. The thinking of those involved is that the middle of the road is the only place to be, particularly in the GOP-dominated House.

When this term of the Louisiana Legislature comes to an end, one its lasting legacies will be the bitter battles that pitted Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Senate against the conservative House.

It has only been a year and a half already we’ve seen the Senate president brought to tears, a regular session adjourned without a statewide construction plan, another concluded without an actual budget and headlines that screamed — SCREAMED! — drama of all sorts.

So, yeah. Anywhere on the political spectrum would be better than where our state government is parked right now. Whether the proverbial middle is that prime locale will be a grand experiment worth keeping tabs on.

Here's what's going on... A small working group of state representatives met for the first time this week to begin laying the foundation for a new House caucus that will strive for compromise in the increasingly divided House.

It has been called the Centrist Caucus by one of the lawmakers involved and the Middle Caucus by another. Someone else has recommended calling it the Louisiana Caucus. But the name doesn’t matter. The fact that it’s even happening is more important.

“The goal is to come up with a package of bills and try to have 70 or 71 votes in place,” said Rep. Gene Reynolds of Minden, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus and the man charged with holding the party line as the minority leader. “There’s an urgency now that wasn’t there before. This is doable.”

GOP Rep. Rob Shadoin of Ruston has been trying to put a group together over the past few months and Reynolds and others are offering a helping hand. While the first gathering was slated for Monday, with a dozen or so legislators expected to attend, a subsequent meeting was already being planned for next week as well. “We can’t keep having special sessions and a regular session each year with a lot of activity and no productivity,” said Shadoin.

Another member of the team is Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner, who was building out a moderate strategy for her state treasurer campaign before her cancer diagnosis forced her out of the race. Stokes, a Republican, was actually looking to establish a coalition of centrists when she heard about Shadoin’s efforts. “I’m trying to repurpose the work that I had put into the campaign into a new caucus of problem-solvers in the House,” Stokes said via text.

The optics are worth taking note of — and the storylines will sprout with ease if any real momentum is gained. (Here’s a one-sentence story pitch for editors: As the state faces another budget test in 2018, known names from the state House are ready and willing to peel off from others in their own parties.) It’s a marketable concept at this given moment, and will be even more so once the next session convenes.

Just think back to the Fiscal Hawks of yesteryear — that influential bloc of House votes that during the administration of former Gov. Bobby Jindal advocated for budget and spending changes. It all started with a group of four freshmen in 2008, and eventually swelled to 28 or so members that ranged from committed to not-so-committed.

But they managed to gum up the process, get some key concessions and, most memorably, generate a ton of press coverage. A few of the early members even built brands out of the political exercise, with Rep. Cameron Henry of Metairie moving on to become the House Appropriations Committee chair and former Rep. John Schroder of Covington running strong for treasurer with the same Fiscal Hawk mantras. “You’ve got to have worker bees who are ready to work and not ready to push their own agendas,” Schroder said of start-up caucuses in the Legislature. “You have to be willing to grind it out.”

That means success doesn’t often arrive overnight.

If the numbers do come together for the Centrist-Middle-Moderate-Louisiana Caucus, it will likely be heavily-weighted toward Democrats, of which there are 40 in the House, many of them willing to compromise on the budget and taxes. There are 60 Republicans in the chamber, meanwhile, and that’s the contingency worth watching. Any moderate movement will need a significant buy-in from the GOP ranks. There are also, of course, three independents in the House.

All of the legislators involved in this push to the center certainly know that the middle is a dangerous place to be in Louisiana — this greening and watery land where party diehards and special interest groups like the lanes as they’re currently carved. Thankfully those same legislators are willing to accept the political risks. Because anything is better than what we’ve seen over the past year and a half.

LOWDOWN: How A Podcast Gets Made

Here at LaPolitics, we like to use our videos and podcasts to teach you something you don’t already know. So in this week’s Lowdown, we’re

Ronnie, Riverboats & Re-Election Campaigns

His father pitched for The New York Yankees before gaining his political chops in Bunkie, Louisiana, just like his son did. So who is it

SPONSORED: Celebrating 25 Years Of Burkenroad Reports

Twenty-five years ago, Professor Peter Ricchiuti founded a unique learning opportunity for Tulane University graduate students that has not

PRE-SINE DIE Q&A WITH SEN. BRET ALLAIN

LaPolitics: That final Finance vote in HB 1 was such a break from the session rhythm. Quick, unemotional and transactional. Was that

ALFORD: The Capitol’s Dirty Little Secret

The governor of Louisiana is not politically omnipotent. (I’m referring to the storied position of governor, not the man or the woman who

RABALAIS’ POLITICAL HISTORY: John Breaux’s Last-Minute Win Over Henson Moore

U.S. Sen. Russell B. Long’s announcement that he would retire after 36 years in the upper chamber was unexpected, as he had been building

PHOTO GALLERY: The Final Four Hours Of The Special Session That Never Was

   

“Members, It Is 12 a.m.”

It’s called a photo finish for a reason, not that the House, Senate and Edwards Administration would need photographic evidence to help sort

VIDEO: Who’s The Man Behind The Tree?

When politicians want your money, the idea is bound to come up. "Don't tax you. Don't tax me. Tax the man behind the tree." But who is

The LaPolitics Report: Meet Monty

This episode features Monty Sullivan, the president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, who provides a political read

LaPolitics Weekly Special Edition: FISCAL CLIFFHANGER

THE RUNDOWN Weekend action slated at Capitol… Sunday is budget-tax day on Senate floor… Sales tax amendments doomed… But the rate is still

LaPolitics Weekly: THEY SAID IT

“I didn't write the Constitution. I’m just trying to follow it.” —Appropriations Chair Cameron Henry, during HB 1 floor debate “I’m trying

Major Moves In SOS Race: Free announces, Werner out & JNK wades in

Like he did during last year’s special election for state treasurer, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is picking sides again in the special election

FISCAL CLIFFHANGER: A Political Melodrama Told In Three Acts

FISCAL CLIFFHANGER A POLITICAL MELODRAMA TOLD IN THREE ACTS How a failed sales tax bill set the special session’s tone, bridged a deep

What The Heck Is John Alario Saying?

Have you ever listened closely to the words being said into the mic Senate President John Alario while he’s overseeing the business of the

SPONSORED: CGI Announces Major Louisiana Expansion

During his special session speech on May 22, Gov. John Bel Edwards, along with IT company CGI executive Dave Henderson, announced that CGI

#LA: John F. Jones & Social Media Advertising

“Social media is not magic. It’s just one of our many channels that we can use.” That’s the view of CenturyLink Public Policy and

JBE, Mitch & The Donald

This story was originally published in LaPolitics Weekly on May 18, 2018. Wish you had read it then? Become a part of our elite community by

SPONSORED: Congratulations to Bruce Greenstein and LHC Group!

Congratulations to Bruce Greenstein on this week’s announcement that he will return to Louisiana to lead innovation at LHC Group as Chief

THE LaPOLITICS REPORT: Picard, Politics & Ponies

In our latest podcast episode of The LaPolitics Report, Tyron Picard of The Picard Group drops in for a conversation about a bygone era in

CAPITOL GAINS: At Home with Clay

 “This is what America wants to see.” That was the promise from a beer-toting Congressman Clay Higgins in this episode of Capitol

SPONSORED: The 106th First Lady’s Luncheon

The Picard Group was honored to attend the 106th First Lady’s Luncheon, honoring The First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump. Held on

IT’S PERSONAL

This story was originally published in LaPOLITICS Weekly on May 4, 2018. Wish you had read it then? Become a part of our elite community by

THIS COULD BE YOU

You could say legislators in Illinois really dropped the ball when they failed to pass an operating budget for their state prior to the 2016

POD: Politics & Drilling, According To Briggs

In this episode of The LaPolitics Report, we talk to Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Gifford Briggs, who recently succeeded his