By John Celock
The Republican-controlled Louisiana House of Representatives elected a last minute compromise Republican candidate for speaker, defeating the hand picked candidate for the state’s new Democratic governor.
The House voted 56-49 on the second ballot to elect Rep. Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) over Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans) to the speakership. Barras’ elected overturns an eight decade tradition of the state’s governor handpicking the House speaker. Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards (D), who is scheduled to take office Monday afternoon, had picked Leger following his election. Leger, the speaker pro tempore, would have been a Democrat presiding over a Republican dominated chamber.
Leger was unanimously reelected as speaker pro tempore in an uncontested race.
Barras, a former Democrat, was a last minute speaker candidate. The speaker’s race had Leger facing off against Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) in what had been looked at as a heavily contested race for the seat. Leger and Edwards were looking uphold the long standing tradition, dating back to former Gov. Huey Long’s (D) administration of the speaker being handpicked by the governor. Leger backers said that he could lead the House in a nonpartisan manner and forge compromises.
Henry backers stressed that a vote for him would be a vote for legislative independence from the executive branch. Henry had been considered the speaker choice of U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R), who lost the governorship to Edwards.
The first ballot had Leger leading with 49 votes, followed by 28 for Henry, 26 for Barras and two votes for Rep. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans). Henry then dropped out of the race, clearing a path for a runoff between Barras and Leger.
During the speaker pro tempore race; both of Leger’s opponents withdrew their names, citing Barras’ election.