In Louisiana, the governor has traditionally has a lot of power, and some of that power includes the tradition of selecting the House and Senate leadership at the beginning of a governor’s administration. However, the 2015 elections resulted in a “split decision”, where the Governor’s chair was recaptured by the Democrats after being out of power for eight years, while the GOP maintained its legislative majorities in both chambers.
And while the legislature has traditionally deferred to the Governor’s wishes (there has not been a floor vote since 1984 on the Governor’s leadership choices), the Louisiana House made history today by defying the governor’s wishes and selecting New Iberia Republican Taylor Barras. He defeated the Governor’s choice (New Orleans Democrat Walt Leger III) on the second ballot.
This was clearly an election where partisan loyalties for the first time determined the outcome of the race. While Leger initially only had opposition from Jefferson Parish Republican Cameron Henry, Barras and New Orleans Democrat Neil Abramson jumped into the race at the last minute before balloting was to occur.
After the first ballot, Leger led with 49 votes (53 votes are needed to win), followed by Henry with 28 votes, Barras with 26, and Abramson with 2. Henry withdrew from the race after the first ballot, making the contest between Leger and Barras (the third place finisher). On the second ballot, Barras defeated Leger 56-49.
A closer analysis of the vote shows the extent to which party loyalties shaped the outcome: on the first ballot, 40 out of 42 Democrats voted for Leger (Abramson and Lafourche Parish Democrat “Truck” Gisclair voted for Abramson), while on the second ballot, Leger secured the vote of 41 out of 42 House Democrats – Abramson was the lone Democrat who crossed party lines to vote for Barras.
Republicans were initially fragmented on the first ballot, but quickly closed ranks behind Barras on the second vote: Henry actually led 27-26 over Barras on the first ballot, while eight Republicans crossed party lines to vote for Leger. On the second ballot, all of the Henry vote went to Barras, while New Orleans Republican Stephanie Hilferty switched from Leger to Barras. Barras then got his 56th vote from Thibodaux Independent “Dee” Richard (who supported Henry on the first ballot), while Independent Terry Brown voted for Leger both times.
So for the first time ever, a Democratic governor (John Bel Edwards) has to face Republican leadership in both legislative chambers (the Senate unanimously re-elected Republican John Alario as its Senate President).
Below is a graphical representation of the first and second ballot votes: