Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attained immortal fame with his fictional detective who could solve a mystery based on the insight about the dog that did not bark in the night.
Is there any insight into the dog that didn’t bark this week at the State Capitol? State legislators formerly growling at Gov. John Bel Edwards decided to stay in their kennels instead of convening a veto session.
Under state law, an override session is automatic unless a majority of lawmakers in either chamber says it’s not necessary. Of course, it’s also unnecessary if there are not vetoes, but with the Republican Legislature often challenging the conservative Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion, they’ll always send something up to which Edwards will object.
Lawmakers had to send in ballots saying they saw no need to reconvene. Twenty-five senators and 39 representatives did so, according to legislative staffers.
The Senate’s 25 votes are more than the 20 (of 37, with two seats vacant) needed to cancel the override session, which was scheduled to begin at noon Saturday. The House, with 39 no-session ballots, came up far short of the 53 necessary to call off the session.
Both chambers have to agree to hold the session, so the House vote doesn’t count. And maybe that is a case of a dog that did not bark, even though the vote showed some teeth.
The core of the more party-oriented and anti-Edwards faction of the GOP caucus is in the House, with members who are more ideologically partisan and sometimes at odds with their own Republican leadership. In fact, the GOP caucus has a fair number of zealots who push crackpot national agendas, including the insane idea that Donald Trump did not lose the 2020 presidential election.
Is that outside the mainstream of the GOP? Maybe among regular voters, but within the State Capitol the aggressive often pass bills that are intended to convey social-media messages to the party faithful. That keeps Edwards busy with the veto pen.
So the 39 (of 105) House members who decided not to call the veto session reflect, to some extent, a distinct minority of legislators, Republican and Democrat and a few independent. But do they?
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, did not return his veto session ballot, thus calling for a session — a seeming nod to the zealots. But Schexnayder, elected with the aid of Democrats in 2020, is always balancing between the two factions in his caucus. And as he’s been around the track a few times in a decade in the House, he may well have divined that the Senate wasn’t going to go along with the veto session anyway.
There were some public suggestions along that line that could not have been more explicit.
Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee, R-Houma, told this newspaper’s Tyler Bridges that those who want to reverse the vetoes lack the two-thirds support needed to override in both chambers, 26 in the Senate and 70 in the House.
“It’s clear that the votes are not there in either the House or the Senate to get an override,” said Cortez, R-Lafayette. So no point in a session, the leader signaled.
The Senate is hardly a much more moderate body than the House, but members come from larger districts and often reflect those more diverse constituencies. The House’s right-wingers tend to come from smaller, overwhelmingly White and rural districts where the writ of Trumpism runs most strongly.
There is also the personal factor. Part-time members of the Legislature, who often work much harder through the year than voters give them credit for, have missed a lot of their regular work and family lives so far this year, with the special reapportionment session in the spring extending their time in Baton Rouge.
The veto session is decided by mail ballots, not everybody in a room indicating their allegiance or yielding to pressure. House members probably knew that the Senate decision was essentially made, so why not withhold the ballot to make a gesture of fealty to the right wing of the caucus?
To call the Legislature a doghouse would be impolite. A better image is that of a large political blob, ordinarily 144 members, connected with a political central nervous system, although maybe not a brain at all.
Stimuli on one side of the blob can cause other parts of it to jiggle. Like House members, making a completely useless gesture in favor of a veto session that probably most of them did not want to see happen, and the Senate would deny anyway.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.