WEEKLY: Autonomy Is The Black Caucus’ New Buzzword

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It has been a stand up and take notice kind of year for the Legislative Black Caucus, although its political successes have largely been overshadowed. It’s members walked away as political winners from this year’s nightmare sessions so far and the caucus this calendar year has influenced policy as much as or probably more than most of the Capitol’s notable factions.

The ability to block bills from passing, usually against the wishes of the Legislature’s overshadowing Republican majority, has been key to the caucus’ strides. But it’s what members bring to that conversation — an increase in the earned income tax credit was passed to pave the way for Democratic support on the sales tax and budget tension, along with well-placed demands, resulted in enhanced funding for the state’s two most prominent HBCUs, Southern and Grambling.

“I think we’ve just gotten better at finding allies,” said Rep. Ted James, vice chair of the caucus.

In some respects, that includes building stronger alliances internally. While occasionally quiet and unassuming, Rep. Randal Gaines has brought his own style to the caucus chairmanship. To put it plainly, he’s a delegator, and he’s seems to be pretty good at it. “It’s about teamwork,” Gaines told LaPolitics while explaining why it’s important that members not in the caucus leadership structure still play important roles. “My leadership allows for me to let members have autonomy to advocate the issues that are important to them.”

Gaines, who succeeded Rep. Joseph Bouie as chairman this year, attributes his leadership style to his time in the National Guard. “We like to allow our members the opportunity not only to be part of a team, but also to lead,” he said. “You don’t suppress the talents and skills of those that serve under you. You elevate them.”

The caucus leadership, in Jackson’s words, is “first line of defense” when it comes to plotting the group’s priorities. Jackson, who served as caucus chair before Bouie, is a perennial session player, even if she doesn’t have the gavel. “Katrina’s always involved,” said Rep. Kenny Cox. “Katrina’s probably been down there and been in the system longer than anybody… She doesn’t go to all the meetings with leadership, but if there’s something to come up, she’ll go talk to those guys herself.”

One can often spot Bouie, who only recently stepped down as chair, serving as the diplomat on the floor when negotiating with other influencers, such as GOP Delegation Chair Lance Harris and Speaker Taylor Barras. “Once you’ve been the leader of the Black Caucus, people don’t ever put you back in the regular seat,” said Cox. “You never really lose that title.”

Regardless of who has the title, the caucus’ hierarchy doesn’t appear as traditional as that of its rivals. Members, beyond just the chairman and vice chairman, have responsibilities: carrying legislation, chamber relations, Fourth Floor negotiations and more. “What you see in Mr. Gaines’ leadership, and a number of past chairmen, is the ability to be inclusive,” said Jackson. “We understand we’re accountable to each other because we share the same constituent group.”

When trying to decipher how the caucus became what it has evolved into, the focus is on the personalities, which may not be exactly where the money is. “After the monument bill, when we walked out, that was a turning point for the caucus,” said James. “It was some self-reflection. It was a reminder of our purpose and why the caucus was founded.”

What else makes the caucus tick? Here are three more insights, directly from caucus members…

— Landry: “When you’re in the minority, you certainly have to be strategic.”

— James: “It’s not one of those things that there’s an assumption that just because Randal and I feel a certain way, that we’re going to hammer it down or the caucus is going to fully support it.”

— Cox: “On the Republican side, they’re attacking their own people. We try to settle all our issues before we hit the floor.”

This story was originally published for Weekly subscribers on June 14, 2018. Wish you had read it then? Become a part of our elite community by subscribing today!

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