In the almost two weeks since the legislative session ended, a few Republicans’ feathers remain ruffled after state budget discussions brought Democrats into the GOP fold and contemplated cuts to business tax breaks.
State Rep. Gordon Dove and other GOP legislators said House Republican leaders excluded them from the bipartisan discussions that crafted the $25 billion state spending plan. Dove said the state construction budget was held hostage to bring protesting Republicans like him in line.
“They made deals ... without telling us anything. To do that to your fellow party members, they have no morals. And I hope you print that because I’ve got no use for those guys,” said Dove, R-Houma.
A faction of House Republicans, calling themselves fiscal hawks, sat down with Democrats, including the Legislative Black Caucus, to broker a state operating budget in the final days of the legislative session. The hawks, who consider themselves to be conservatives, got the governor’s support on a package of bills that delve into the budget-making process. The Democrats got a teacher pay raise.
The back-and-forth negotiations played out behind closed doors and at one point included the hawks agreeing to a 15 percent reduction in the tax breaks from which Louisiana’s film industry, dairy farmers and manufacturers currently benefit. The reduction was softened to modifications after the governor flexed his political muscle against it.
State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Metairie, said the tax break cut was a defining moment for her as a House Republican. “For me, I’ve never disagreed with the fiscal hawks. I was just never necessarily included in their discussions,” she said.
When the talk of cutting tax breaks surfaced, she formed a strong opinion about the negotiations.
“I see divisions occurring that could be dangerous,” Stokes said.
Dove said House Republican leader Lance Harris needs to step down and band together with the “liberal hawks.”
State Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, said the session resulted in rifts within the Republican delegation, largely because legislators felt excluded from talks that included participants from the opposite party.
“There’s several people who are very upset. I’m not a guy to stay upset,” Ivey said. “I’m not bitter or angry.”
Harris, of Alexandria, dismissed the discontent as some House members feeling a little aggravated.
He said he does not see a deep division within the House delegation.
“One thing about our delegation, we respect everyone’s opinion,” he said.
The hawks’ leader, state Rep. Brett Geymann, said Republicans are passionate people who express their opinions.
Geymann, R-Lake Charles, said talks with Democrats took place without any significant input from the governor, who abandoned his push to eliminate the state’s income taxes on the first day of the session.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is chairman of the Republican Governors Association, declined during a telephone interview Tuesday to comment on whether his party’s House delegation needs to regroup. Jindal said he is happy to work with legislators as individuals.
However, Jindal had plenty of advice for national Republicans, telling them “to stop the bedwetting.”
Jindal had penned a pep talk in Politico, which was published Tuesday, to point out the GOP has 30 governors and took control of the U.S. House in 2010.
One snippet reads: “Let’s stop defeating ourselves, get on offense, and go kick the other guys around. If you’ve followed the news over the past month, they are certainly asking for it. We are the conservative party in America — deal with it.”
The governor then launched into what “the left” wants, listing pornography, abortion, lax moral standards, the elimination of super-sized soda drinks and a government that offers jobs to everyone.
Less than a year ago, Jindal told Republicans to “compete for every single vote. The 47 percent and the 53 percent. And any other combination of numbers that adds up to 100 percent.”
He told the Republican National Committee that the party must work to unite Americans after the Democratic president’s re-election.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Jindal said that he is not changing direction on the party becoming more inclusive.“We still need to go after every single vote and show our conservative principles work,” he said.
The point, the governor said, is that the nation does not need two liberal parties.