In rare veto override, Republicans rebuke Gov. John Bel Edwards: ‘We broke down the door’ | Legislature

This time, Republican lawmakers triumphed.

As a result, Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, suffered a stinging political defeat Wednesday when the Legislature overturned his veto of the congressional maps that legislators approved last month.

It was the first time a governor suffered a veto override against their wishes in 31 years. 

Lawmakers in 1991 overrode the veto of then Gov. Buddy Roemer vetoed an anti-abortion bill. The Legislature overrode the veto of a bill in 1993, but then Gov. Edwin W. Edwards didn’t oppose the override.

The final vote

The House vote Wednesday was 72-31, two more than the two-thirds minimum needed. The Senate vote was 27-11, one more than the minimum needed there. Only one legislator – Democratic state Rep. Francis Thompson – crossed party lines.

“It speaks so poorly of us, collectively, what transpired today,” Edwards said at a press conference following the override. “This was not our finest day.”

That’s not how Republicans saw it.

“It’s probably just the first veto override,” Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, said afterward. “We tried last year and failed. This time we broke down the door. He better be careful.”

What it means

Wednesday’s votes mean that Louisiana this fall will have five congressional districts favored to elect Republicans, while Democrats will have one – unless federal courts rule that the new map violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act and mandate new boundaries.

Edwards and Democratic legislators want a second Black-majority district that would elect a Democrat, noting that one-third of the state’s voters are African-American.

It was a day of high drama at the State Capitol given the historic and political implications.

No one could say with certainty beforehand how the vote would go.

Unprecedented move

Legislators were meeting in a special veto override session at the insistence of Republicans, over the objections of Edwards and Democratic lawmakers. In order to meet, legislators voted on Tuesday to pause the regular legislative session until Monday, an unprecedented move that Democrats argued was unconstitutional.

The special one-day session took place with a backdrop: Republican lawmakers have increasingly flexed their muscles against Edwards, a rare Democratic governor in the Deep South, where the party’s brand is increasingly toxic in statewide races. The Republican assertiveness in Louisiana has marked a sharp departure from the traditional power structure in the State Capitol where the governor reigned supreme.







Gov. John Bel Edwards listens intently to a question from a media member, during a press conference at the State Capitol on March 30, 2022, after both the House and Senate voted to override his veto of the congressional redistricting bill that passed recently. Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, is at left, one of the members of the Democratic caucus that stood with the Governor during the pres conference.




A little more than six years ago, Republicans installed their choice for speaker over Edwards’ objections. For decades before that, governors hand-picked the House speaker.

Republican lawmakers attempted to override the governor last year on a bill targeting transgender athletes, but Edwards rallied his side, and the Republican effort fell short by two votes in the House. It was a personal setback for House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, who had predicted victory with “100%” confidence. Since then, he and Edwards have had what the governor calls “strained” relations.

Legislators met in a special session in February to redraw the boundaries for the state House and Senate, the Public Service Commission, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and for Congress. Edwards vetoed only the congressional map, on March 9.

The Legislature had overridden a governor against their wishes only in 1991, on an anti-abortion bill vetoed by then-Gov. Buddy Roemer. He was a Republican at the time, after having just left the Democratic Party.

Minute by minute

Wednesday’s special session was scheduled to convene at noon, just as state offices in Baton Rouge were closing ahead of an impending storm.

In the minutes beforehand, everyone was looking for tea leaves for how the vote might go.

At 11:27 a.m., Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, expressed confidence in an interview that Republicans would override Edwards but added, pointing upward, “But somebody has a pretty big hammer on the fourth floor.”

At 11:40 a.m., Matthew Block, the governor’s executive counsel, walked into the House chamber, looking for someone. He was smiling and looking chipper. Did this mean that Harris was wrong, that the governor had the upper hand after all? Block wouldn’t say.

“It’s a teeter-totter,” said Rep. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, standing nearby.







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Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, makes an impassioned presentation against the override in the Senate, after the House passed its veto override bill Wednesday, March 30, 2022 at the Louisiana State Capitol, where Republican majorities in House and Senate successfully overrode a governor’s veto for the first time against an executive’s will since 1991 to ensure Black voters would not have the possibility of electing a second African American to Congress. The Senate voted to override, as well.




Eric Holl, a Democratic operative, was sitting in a chair in the back of the House chamber, waiting for the action to begin.

“Anyone who tells you they know how it will go is lying,” Holl said.

At about 12:30 p.m., Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, walked to the well and began explaining why legislators ought to override the governor’s veto of House Bill 1, which had passed with 70 votes during the special session.

The House chamber was unusually quiet, with virtually all members sitting in their seats, listening to Stefanski, the architect of the congressional map.

Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, walked into the House chamber and took a seat along a marble wall. The Senate would take up the override only if it passed the House first.

The undecided voters

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Five House members had said within the previous 24 hours that they were undecided. They were: Rep. Roy Daryl Adams, No Party-Jackson; Rep. Joe Marino, No Party-Gretna; Rep. Malinda White, No Party-Bogalusa; Rep. Beryl Amedée, R-Gray; and Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath.

Marino said both sides had been asking him what he wanted but that he had not requested anything. Political insiders assumed that Schexnayder was dangling the vacant chairmanship of the Criminal Justice Committee as a reward, but Marino would not confirm that.







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Rep. Roy Daryl Adams, No Party-Jackson, stands at the back of the House Chamber, shortly before the body passed its veto override bill Wednesday, March 30, 2022, at the Louisiana State Capitol, and then the Senate also voted to override a governorÕs veto Ð for the first time against an executiveÕs will since 1991 Ð to ensure Black voters would not have the possibility of electing a second African American to Congress. Adams, an independent, voted in favor of overridng the Governor’s veto.




Amedée and Miguez said they objected to the boundaries because they split St. Mary and St. Martin parishes into two congressional districts.

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, who represents the Acadiana region, had blasted the new maps drawn by Legislative leaders, providing cover for Republicans who would oppose it.

How Adams might vote had drawn extra scrutiny because he had voted with the governor during last July’s failed veto override effort and admitted afterward he had “lied” when he told Schexnayder that he would vote with him. The speaker punished him by removing Adams from a plum committee assignment and overseeing a new House map that would put Adams in a district that might not be winnable.

But just before the Legislature convened on Wednesday, Adams complained in an interview that Edwards had failed to deliver promised benefits for his vote last year. “All I saw was the punishment,” he said. Edwards, for his part, said that’s “absolutely, 100% false,” adding that Adams didn’t raise concerns in their meetings Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

House votes

At 12:45 p.m., after only 15 minutes of debate, the House was ready to vote.

Schexnayder asked the clerk to open up the voting machines. The big board over his head lit up with numerous green votes and fewer red ones. Schexnayder announced the vote: 72 yeas and 31 nays. The House had overridden Edwards. Applause and cheers broke out in the House chamber.







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At the back of the House Chamber before the body passed its veto override bill Wednesday, March 30, 2022 at the Louisiana State Capitol, Senators Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek, left, and Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, talk with Rep. Roy Daryl Adams, No Party-Jackson, center, shortly before the House then the Senate overrode a governorÕs veto Ð for the first time against an executiveÕs will since 1991 Ð to ensure Black voters would not have the possibility of electing a second African American to Congress. Adams, an independent, voted in favor of overridng the Governor’s veto. Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, is at left.




All of the undecided members went with Schexnayder.

Afterward, Amedée said in an interview that while she wanted to vote on another map, that option wasn’t available. So she voted for the override.

Miguez in a statement said voting to override “was the better choice” but didn’t elaborate.

Marino said he reached his decision for a complicated set of reasons but noted he had voted for the congressional map in February.

White had been feeling the pressure from both sides. Her eyes red from crying, she said she voted in line with what voters in Washington Parish wanted.

White had been a Democrat but became an independent last year and is running to be parish president in Washington, which President Donald Trump carried with 68% of the vote in 2020.

Asked if Edwards might punish her by withholding money for her district, White said, “If that’s what he feels like he needs to do, I’m not afraid of that. But I don’t think he’s that kind of person.”

Thompson, the lone member who didn’t side with his party, said he voted for the override because creating a second Black-majority district would endanger the seat of U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow, a first term Republican from Richland Parish, where Thompson lives.

Senate votes

Immediately after the vote in the House, senators watching the debate filed out to walk across Memorial Hall to the Senate.

The mood in the upper chamber was subdued and tense.







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Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, wears a somber expression, during testimony agins the override in the Senate, after the House passed its veto override bill Wednesday, March 30, 2022 at the Louisiana State Capitol, where Republican majorities in House and Senate successfully overrode a governor’s veto – for the first time against an executive’s will since 1991 – to ensure Black voters would not have the possibility of electing a second African American to Congress. A number of Representatives stood at the back of the Senate Chamber, watching the action.




After a brief opening by state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican who sponsored the Republican-drawn maps, six Black Democrats rebuked the plans. Several who spoke, including Cortez, acknowledged the courts will ultimately decide the fate of the maps.

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, took to the podium and invoked her enslaved ancestors, who weren’t acknowledged as human beings by the U.S. government or its White majority.

“I don’t feel human today. I don’t feel seen. I don’t feel equal, at all,” Peterson said. “Again, being ignored, just like my ancestors. Hundreds of years later. When is it that we will be seen?”

After the debate, Senators quietly voted 27-11 to override the governor’s veto. There was no applause in the chamber.

How they voted in the House

Voting to override the governor’s veto (72): Speaker Schexnayder, Reps Adams, Amedée, Bacala, Bagley, Beaullieu, Bishop, Bourriaque, Butler, Carrier, Coussan, Crews, Davis, Deshotel, DeVillier, DuBuisson, Echols, Edmonds, Edmonston, Emerson, Farnum, Firment, Fontenot, Freiberg, Frieman, Gadberry, Garofalo, Geymann, Goudeau, Harris, Hilferty, Hodges, Hollis, Horton, Huval, Illg, Ivey, M. Johnson, Kerner, Mack, Magee, Marino, McCormick, McFarland, McKnight, McMahen, Miguez, G. Miller, Mincey, Muscarello, Nelson, Orgeron, C. Owen, R. Owen, Pressly, Riser, Romero, Schamerhorn, Schlegel, Seabaugh, St. Blanc, Stagni, Stefanski, Tarver, Thomas, Thompson, Turner, Villio, Wheat, White, Wright and Zeringue.

Voting to sustain the governor’s veto (31): Reps Boyd, Brass, Brown, Bryant, Carpenter, W. Carter, Cormier, Cox, Duplessis, Fisher, Freeman, Gaines, Glover, Green, Hughes, Jefferson, Jenkins, T. Johnson, Jordan, LaCombe, Landry, Larvadain, Lyons, Marcelle, D. Miller, Moore, Newell, Phelps, Pierre, Selders and Willard.

Not Voting (1): R. Carter.

How they voted in the Senate

Voting to override the governor’s veto (27): President Cortez, Sens Abraham, Allain, Bernard, Cathey, Cloud, Connick, Fesi, Foil, Henry, Hensgens, Hewitt, Lambert, McMath, Milligan, F. Mills, R. Mills, Mizell, Morris, Peacock, Pope, Reese, Stine, Talbot, Ward, White and Womack.

Voting to sustain the governor’s veto (11): Sens Barrow, Boudreaux, Bouie, Carter, Fields, Harris, Jackson, Luneau, Peterson, Price and Smith.

Not Voting (1): Sen. Tarver

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