"The final few days of session always scare me," Schedler, a Mandeville Republican, ranted to his colleagues from the Senate floor. "We all know it's like a basketball game. It happens very rapidly. We leave here at four or five o'clock [a.m.] every day. We should never be put in this position."
The last week of a lawmaking session in Louisiana is legendary. The pace is so frantic, the compromise process so secretive and legislators so self-involved that bad bills with questionable intent easily slip by unnoticed. Targets of certain legislation don't even find out they're in the crosshairs until months later. During the first few weeks of session, lawmakers work four days a week, getting home most nights in time for dinner. But during the last week, it's a 24-7 gig.
As such, paranoia had clearly taken hold earlier in the day when one of the Capitol's old political ghosts worked his voodoo on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. Republican Sen. Max Malone of Shreveport was pushing legislation to make absolutely certain Louisiana's governor is prohibited from issuing pardons on federal convictions. It was largely a local beef, at least on the surface.
Malone was still miffed that a pardon by former Gov. Mike Foster allowed Joe Shyne, who was pinched in 1994 on federal racketeering charges, to run for the Shreveport City Council. But as committee members took their vote, Malone issued a strange warning: "You are voting to pardon Edwin Edwards, that's what you are doing!"
Rep. Charmaine Marchand, a Crescent City Democrat, helped kill the measure and rejuvenated rumors of Gov. Kathleen Blanco's options on the matter. "I want Edwards back," Marchand said, casting a vote that surely brought smiles to the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale.
As the smoke cleared the following day, and legislation was released from opposing chambers or conference committees after weeks of rancor, several lawmakers found their bills sporting hitchhikers, as they're commonly called. One of the largest came at the hands of Rep. Roy Quezaire, a Donaldsonville Democrat, who single-handedly attached $734.9 million in road repairs and related upgrades to an unsuspecting Senate bill. The gigantic rider was eventually stripped off when Blanco caught wind of the amendment and threatened a veto.
Other bills came out of the process much worse off and even unrecognizable in some instances. "The only thing left of mine is my name," said Lake Charles Democratic Rep. Elcie Guillory in disgust over the loss of his own bill to last-minute hijinks.
As Democratic Gov. Blanco faced the final two days of her last session, she remained at odds with Republicans over how much tax relief should be included in the state's record $30 billion budget. The governor was willing to accept $180 million in tax relief, but the GOP wanted considerably more.
On the House floor, Republicans hung signs on their desk computers declaring, "My Mama Wants Tax Credits." It was in reference to a quip by Rep. Jim Tucker, a Terrytown resident who chairs the House GOP Caucus, responding to Blanco's threat to cut pet projects in exchange for tax relief. "She's not my mama, and she's not my constituent," he said.
Not to be outdone, Democrats, who mostly argued that too many tax cuts would jeopardize important programs and construction, posted their own signs reading, "My Mama Wants Roads."
Hitchhiking attempts continued throughout the day, but the efforts were overshadowed by a true hijacking. Dredging up a hot topic from last year's session, senators from southeast Louisiana tried unsuccessfully to take over an unrelated House bill to create a new autonomous West Bank levee district.
While not the most ethical route to take in passing legislation, term-limited Democratic Rep. Francis Thompson of Delhi defended the practice in his farewell address. "You should never let the constitution stand in the way of a good bill," he said.
The final day of session started 30 minutes late, with the House getting underway long before the Senate, but nowhere close to the 9 a.m. convening time. After one lawmaker switched his vote on a bill from the previous day ' an all too common practice that allows minds and once-official stances to be changed ' the House endorsed a resolution to create an Italian-American Caucus, effective immediately. (Where there's a cause, there's a caucus, conventional wisdom goes, and the House already has conclaves for women, rural lawmakers, and more.)
As the business of the day proceeded, stuffed monkeys were discovered in various locations around the House floor, the aftermath of a debate from the previous day that ended in the Tulane Primate Research Center's budget being halved. Rep. John Alario, the Westwego Democrat who chairs the budget-drafting Appropriations Committee, had jokingly said half of the monkeys would need to escape, and they apparently did.
The real animalistic behavior, however, didn't surface until Rep. Rick Farrar, a Pineville Democrat, argued on behalf of a last-minute amendment that would have loosened regulations for certain nursing homes. Freshman Rep. Elbert L. Guillory of Opelousas, also a Democrat, questioned Farrar about how he cares for the older members of his own family and then accused him of not being sympathetic to seniors. "Do you have no shame?" Guillory asked.
Farrar gripped the podium and pointed a finger angrily at Guillory, saying, "You better watch out, because I do have shame. And I'll tell you what else I have ' pride. So you better watch what you say."
Rep. Warren Triche, a Raceland Democrat facing term limits, stoked the fire by asking the House speaker: "Do we have boxing gloves in the House we can administer to these two to let them go at it here?" The speaker denied the request, but Triche had tried one more time, on behalf of the Class of 1988, to keep the House as rowdy as it's always been.
Alongside the drama of the forced exits, the pace of those final hours and the sex appeal of a record surplus, it was the last gathering for 45 representatives signing off alongside 15 senators. Maybe that's why Triche apologized to the House on behalf of his freshman class during his farewell speech for shortening terms.
It proved, finally, that lawmakers are accountable for their actions ' kind of. "We as a class voted overwhelming for term limits, and it would be especially difficult for us to come here now and tell you we have a change of heart and really want to change our vote," Triche said. "But we're the reason you're facing this."
The Lafayette superintendent insists the budget is illegal and vows to fight on.
"I am not a scientist," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said numerous times, a response that other members of his party have parroted.
Republicans are running strong races against endangered Democratic incumbents in states such as North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska. Republicans are also looking to replace retiring Democrats in Iowa and West Virginia with a GOP lawmaker.
Republican congressman Vance McAllister is trying to make up to Louisiana voters for getting too close to a married former employee.
You may not like all of “it,” but U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, unlike many of her colleagues, isn't sitting around twiddling her thumbs in Congress.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro says he "can't wait" to play against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The heat keeps rising for Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal as a new slate of corruption allegations surfaced this week.
If opposing defenses sell out to stop the Packers' passing game, they risk being gashed by powerful running back Eddie Lacy, a New Orleans-area native.
At the horn the officiating crew trotted to the tunnel and left security personnel to clean up after them.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Sign "ninjas" cleaning up clutter; NYC doctor positive for Ebola; Ferguson grand jury decision nears; and more national and international news for Friday, October 24, 2014.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.