State Rep. Gene Reynolds’ early departure predictably sends an unwelcome signal to Louisiana Democrats but unexpectedly does the same for Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.
Next week, Reynolds’ resignation from his legislative post takes effect. Only a couple of months ago he headed the entirety of House Democrats, and the same reason he left that job also likely applies to explain his exiting the Legislature entirely.
When Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards surprisingly captured the governorship in 2015, Reynolds may have thought he would have a significant increase in influence. Historically, governors have wielded great influence over the Legislature, so even if Reynolds headed the minority party in his chamber he might have foreseen an active and successful role in spearheading Edwards’ liberal agenda.
Instead, legislative Republicans asserted themselves and have kept Edwards from experiencing almost any policy wins. In the area of Reynolds’ greatest concern, education, he and Edwards have had zero luck in rolling back reforms of the past decade.
With 2019 state elections dampening Democrats’ enthusiasm to force the tax hikes necessary to expand state government next year, Edwards’ agenda probably has no chance to progress over the next 18 months. Further, with only marginally better prospects for his reelection, the odds seem against having a Democrat in the governor’s mansion for the next four years.
So, even though Reynolds could run for another term, his potential policy-making influence appears likely to decline in the future, so he opted to bail out now with a job offer from Nungesser overseeing the state park system. Leaving a year-and-a-half early, this triggers a special election this fall for the Webster Parish district.
And it likely will flip parties in the process. The 10th House District – which also includes one rural Bossier Parish precinct – since Reynolds won first in 2011 has seen Democrat registration decline three percent and Republicans have added the same. Then, in the general election Reynolds received only 39 percent of the vote against three GOP candidates, but managed to capture 16 percent more in the runoff to win.
More ominously for Democrats, the district went 64 percent for GOP Pres. Donald Trump in 2016 despite its 46 percent Democrat registration. Candidates matter, but any quality Republican in the race will have an advantage over a Democrat.
But Democrats aren’t the only ones disadvantaged by the departure of Reynolds. Nungesser apparently courted Reynolds for his new gig, adding to a list of pro-Democrat actions by him. Just in the past month, Nungesser has irked Republicans by voting to allow banks discriminating against potential customers exercising their Second Amendment rights to issue state bond contracts and by appearing with Edwards at a rally held to pressure legislators into raising taxes permanently.
Giving a high-level state job to a Democrat legislator only adds to GOP discontent over Nungesser. That could prompt an intra-party challenge to him next year, which would see Reynolds’ retirement have much farther-reaching implications as the straw that broke the camel’s back regarding Nungesser.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer or this newspaper.