A lawmaker's desire to remove some of the politics from the election of legislative leaders fell flat in a committee hearing last week. Sen. Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City, wanted lawmakers to approve a package of bills he called the "Legislative Independence Act," which included a proposed constitutional amendment. The package would have allowed lawmakers to elect House and Senate leaders confidentially, thus squeezing out the long-held influence of governors in the process.
Gautreaux says he started polling lawmakers about six months ago on the topic, and support seemed to peak in recent weeks in the wake of the House speaker pro tem election, which put several House members on the spot in terms of publicly supporting one candidate over another. "It demonstrated the difficulties we have in aligning ourselves with a winner," Gautreaux says.
His proposal, however, died after three members of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee voted against it. Many lawmakers expressed concern that their votes would not be disclosed to the public under the proposed system. Gautreaux, chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee, argued that when normal citizens vote in an election, their ballots are kept secret. In theory, the use of confidential ballots would allow lawmakers to vote however they choose without the fear of retribution from the administration or House and Senate leadership. "We have a Legislature that looks like a branch of the governor," Gautreaux says, adding that those who don't get on board with the governor get left at the landing. — Jeremy Alford