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Edwards faces 2nd term with more conservative Legislature

Many of the Democratic governor's GOP allies in the Senate, particularly Senate President John Alario, are exiting because of term limits.

BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards spent his first four years in office tangling with conservative House Republicans who regularly fought his agenda. As Edwards heads to his second term starting in January, those tensions are likely to worsen and expand into the Senate.

Many of the Democratic governor's GOP allies in the Senate, particularly Senate President John Alario, are exiting because of term limits. And more conservatives were elected this fall to both legislative chambers.

Several of those lawmakers ran against Edwards' actions in office and his overall agenda, suggesting the governor's next four years could be rocky ones in a Legislature where he once served.

"John Bel Edwards will probably face the most conservative Legislature in 100 years," Southern University political science professor Albert Samuels said Monday.

As Edwards was celebrating his Saturday victory over GOP challenger Eddie Rispone, conservative Republicans and their allies were plotting their next moves.

"We lost a huge battle with the governor's race, but we're getting ready to fight a war for the next four years, and our front line of defense is going to be the Louisiana Legislature," Republican political consultant Lionel Rainey told conservative talk radio host Moon Griffon on Monday's show.

Edwards got a slight boost when Republicans fell two seats short of reaching the veto-proof, two-thirds supermajority that they sought in the House. They've exceeded that benchmark in the Senate. To override an Edwards veto, Republicans in the House will need to not only work as a bloc, but also persuade two Democrats to vote against their party.

Still, Edwards could see more bills that he dislikes heading to his desk, rather than stopped in the Senate, where he could often count on Alario and other Republicans to help block legislation he didn't want to reach him.

Republicans in January will hold 27 of 39 Senate seats and 68 of 105 House seats, and the GOP candidates elected often are more conservative than the term-limited lawmakers they're replacing, particularly in the Senate.

After the October primary election, Attorney General Jeff Landry, who heads a PAC that worked to elect more conservative Republicans to legislative seats, described the outcome as a “whole new day in Louisiana.” That election saw Republicans flip two seats held by Democrats in the Senate and term-limited GOP lawmakers in the chamber replaced by more conservatives, including several who had helped create problems for Edwards' agenda in the House over the last four years.

At his victory celebration Saturday night, Edwards talked of his upcoming agenda: increasing spending on early childhood education, new investments in major infrastructure projects and boosted worker training initiatives. And he talked of bipartisanship.

"I've seen what we can do when we work together for good of our state," he said.

But Republicans who blocked the governor's proposals to increase Louisiana's minimum wage and enact new equal pay requirements on businesses are certain to continue stalling such measures in the new term. Samuels said Republicans who notched large victories in the House and Senate are likely to feel more emboldened to work against Edwards, rather than work on compromises.

"There's no shortage of things to do. I'm just not sure they're going to do them," Samuels said.

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