House Speaker Clay Schexnayder is quite the gearhead, having worked as a certified mechanic before managing and then eventually owning his own garage in Ascension Parish. If you ask Schexnayder, a Republican, about it, he’ll likely start his story where most should — in the beginning.
“When I was 8-years-old my dad bought a brand new Snapper riding lawnmower, really the first decent one in the neighborhood,” Schexnayder said last week during an interview from his Gonzales district office. “He brung it home and told us not to touch it, so I went out there and tore the engine down.
I wanted to see how it ran. Other than him scolding me and buying a gasket set to put it back together, that was it. I put it back together and we used it to cut grass for many years to come. That’s how it started. That’s how it all started.”
But being under the hood wasn’t good enough for Schexnayder. He wanted to be behind the wheel as well and started racing IMCA/UMP modified cars on dirt tracks on a circuit that includes Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. Schexnayder participated in 200 to 300 races between 1998 and 2013, developing a need (and “love”) for speed along the way.
Schexnayder, however, learned just how dangerous speed could be during one of his first races at a popular track in Mississippi’s Pike County. “We were a little overconfident, you could say, and we were running in like a 30 car field that night and running top 10,” the speaker recalled. “If you know UMP modifieds, it’s an open wheel, like an Indy car, but it’s dirt. It’s very touch and go.
You’re doing upwards to 100 miles per hour. I got bumped in the straightaway and the car went airborne. It tore down the catch fence along the grandstands and I landed in the grandstands about five rows up.”
The legislator-to-be, who said he witnessed it all in “slow motion,” wasn’t injured in the accident. “When he hit me and the car went airborne, everything happened really slow,” he said. “I’m airborne watching everything play out and I’m just hoping people moved really quick, and, oh, they were moving fairly quick. By the time we hit the grandstands we were clear of everybody.”
In that situation, it could be argued that speed was a bad thing. In Capitoland, however, a little momentum can go a long way — and over in the Senate there indeed seems to be a need for speed.
The regular session of the Louisiana Legislature set to convene in roughly three weeks, and within 14 days of that start lawmakers should be well into their first hearings on tort reform.
That was the roadmap offered up last week by state Sen. Barrow Peacock, a Shreveport Republican who addressed a mostly conservative audience assembled by the Louisiana Coalition for Common Sense and Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch.
If Peacock, a Senate judiciary chairman, sticks to his plan for bills that will be assigned to his committee, the timing of this centerpiece issue — tort reform, in some fashion — could influence the pacing of the entire regular session. Since it’s the first session of a new term, that pacing along with its aftermath may color the next four years as well.
A rapid and deliberate pace could help lawmakers avoid last-minute dustups over the budget and capital construction bill, which have proved to be final-day thorns in recent sessions. Then again, progress can be just as infectious as panic in Capitoland, and a rushed approach could throw the entire session into the grandstands.
Whatever you do, don’t blink. While the budget might seem like a mess right now — there’s technically no executive proposal because a state board can’t agree on a revenue estimate — that uncertainty will not last.
Lawmakers will convene their regular session on March 9, and by early April a revenue prediction should adopted by the Revenue Estimating Conference. (Keep your fingers crossed.) If that does come to fruition, the Legislature may find itself in a mad dash to finish the budget before the session adjourns on June 1.
As of Tuesday morning there were 89 bill filed in the House and 49 introduced in the Senate. That number is going to climb. During the last regular session to kick off a term in 2016 lawmakers introduced 1,644 bills. That’s all to say there will be plenty of distractions in the regular session, from overheated, time-consuming debates that yield no policies at all to a mountain of local bills that only matter to certain areas of the state.
Despite all of the drama and politics lawmakers are going to have to pick their lane. Whether they choose a session that moves at a super-charged pace or one at the speed of a snail, we’ll still have to witness it all the same. Let’s just hope it doesn’t play out in slow motion.