BY MICHELLE MILLHOLLON
Capitol news bureau
July 06, 2012
After voting against the governor on the budget and legacy lawsuit legislation, a north Louisiana representative is out of his job as vice chairman of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
State Rep. Jim Morris, R-Oil City, said Thursday that House Speaker Chuck Kleckley accused him of lacking interest in the committee’s work. Morris said he never missed a meeting or showed up late and often acted as chairman in state Rep. Gordon Dove’s absence.
“It’s either (the budget) or possibly legacy,” Morris said of the reason for his removal.
He said he believes the governor was privy to the discussions about stripping him of his vice chairmanship. “I don’t know if there was influence, but I have reason to believe there was communication,” Morris said.
Morris was part of a group of conservative Republicans who fashioned themselves as fiscal hawks and fought the governor on the $25.6 billion state spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
At issue was the amount of one-time, or nonrecurring, money to use in the budget. Jindal wanted to use more than $200 million in dollars that likely will materialize only once. The fiscal hawks contended that was irresponsible. In the end, the governor got his way with a budget largely framed as he proposed it.
Morris’ legislative roommate and seatmate is state Rep. Brett Geymann, who emerged as the leader of the fiscal hawks. Geymann is neither a committee chairman nor a vice chairman.
“Jim is a fine legislator. He does a great job. He is always on time,” said Geymann, R-Lake Charles. “It almost has to be over his votes with the fiscal hawks. I would say it is because of some of his votes on the budget.”
Morris, who derives his income from the oil and gas industry, also clashed with the Jindal administration on changing the legal process for dealing with so-called “legacy lawsuits” that the oil and gas companies claim are stalling energy exploration.
Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, refused to explain why he removed Morris from his leadership role.
“I’m not going to comment on my discussions,” Kleckley said.
Kleckley said the governor did not influence his decision. He would not comment on whether further changes will occur with chairmen and vice chairmen.
Through a spokesman, Gov. Bobby Jindal declined an interview request on Thursday.
Dove, R-Houma, abruptly ended a conversation when asked Thursday whether Morris did a poor job as vice chairman of the committee he chairs. “Let me get back to you on that,” Dove said. He did not.
Earlier in the year, state Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, lost his vice chairmanship after voting against an education tax rebate measure that the governor pushed.
Morris said he tried to relinquish his vice chairmanship in April after Kleckley told him he needed to cast the right votes. He said Kleckley refused to accept his resignation.
Told this week that he showed a lack of interest in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, Morris said he pointed out to Kleckley that he had a perfect attendance record. He said Kleckley then told him that he missed committee dinners. Morris said he did skip gatherings involving meals.
“I’m on a special diet,” he said.
Morris was not the only vice chairman to join the fiscal hawks in voting against the governor’s budget approach.
“I hope no one else loses their job. It’s time for that kind of stuff to end,” Morris said.
State Rep. Cameron Henry, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, led efforts on the House floor to strip the one-time money from the budget bill advanced by the panel.
Henry, R-New Orleans, said Thursday morning that he still has his leadership position.
“The day’s still early. It’s not even lunchtime yet,” he said.
of the Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.