Melinda Deslatte / The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. -- A northwest Louisiana lawmaker who was a vocal critic of Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget proposals has been removed from his leadership position in the Legislature.
Rep. Jim Morris, a Republican from Oil City, said Thursday that he was stripped of his position as vice chairman of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee after the legislative session ended. House Speaker Chuck Kleckley confirmed the change, but he wouldn't say why Morris was ousted from the job.
"I don't talk about those issues, those personnel issues. I have no comment," said Kleckley, a Jindal ally who gained his leadership job with the support of the Republican governor.
Morris was among a group of conservative House Republicans who unsuccessfully fought Jindal's plans to use piecemeal funding to balance next year's budget.
The so-called fiscal hawks called it irresponsible to use nearly $270 million in one-time money that is uncertain to appear year after year for ongoing services and programs. Morris repeatedly criticized some of the governor's spending plans as unconstitutional.
A second-term lawmaker who represents parts of Bossier and Caddo parishes, Morris also opposed Jindal's centerpiece education bills, which will make it tougher for a teacher to reach the job protection status called tenure and create a statewide voucher program that will use taxpayer dollars to send children to private schools.
Morris said he was told that he hadn't shown interest in the job or attended chairmen's meetings with Kleckley, assertions Morris said were untrue. The Oil City lawmaker said he attended every committee hearing and more of the chairmen's meetings with the House speaker than several other legislative leaders who have retained their jobs.
"I'm always disappointed to be told, number one, that I'm not interested in something when I drive 300 miles one way to get there, and number two, when it's not the truth," Morris said. "It's either the votes I cast, or they didn't like what I was doing in the committee. Lack of interest is bogus."
Morris said he tried to resign as vice chairman in April, after Kleckley told him he needed Morris' vote on the governor's education bills. But Morris said Kleckley refused his resignation at the time, so Morris was surprised to learn this week that he was stripped of the job.
A spokesman for the governor, Kyle Plotkin, said Jindal's office didn't ask for Morris to be ousted. But Morris said he'd be surprised "if they didn't either make the call or were involved in it."
Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, said a decision hadn't been made yet about Morris' replacement. While he wouldn't comment on his decision, he called Morris a "good friend."
"He has represented his district very well, and I think he will continue to represent his district well, and he'll continue to be my friend," Kleckley said.
Morris wasn't the first lawmaker who bucked Jindal's wishes to be ousted from a leadership job by Kleckley.
In March, the House speaker stripped Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, of his position as vice chairman of the House Insurance Committee, a day after voting against a tax break bill sought by Jindal.
The measure opposed by Ritchie, which has since been signed into law, will give a dollar-for-dollar state tax rebate to people who donate money to a nonprofit organization that gives out grants or scholarships to private schools.
At the time, Ritchie blamed the loss of his chairmanship on his vote against Jindal's bill, saying Kleckley told him he was disappointed with the vote. Kleckley never said why he removed Ritchie as vice chairman.