Someone around the state Capitol should invest in name tags, because they would certainly make a killing during the new term that begins next week.
While your mind may want to gravitate towards the incoming Legislature, where there will be 18 new senators and 46 rookie representatives, lawmakers will not be only fresh faces floating around Baton Rouge.
Within the administration of Gov. John Bel Edwards you’ll find a few new names as well. Dr. Rebekah Gee, for example, will be vacating her post as Edwards’ health secretary at the end of the month.
Prior to Gee, and just since November, Erin Monroe Wesley left her position as Edwards’ special counsel and Jennifer Steele walked away from her job as Medicaid director. Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, head of the Louisiana National Guard, likewise announced his retirement recently and will leave behind his own vacancy.
Curtis will be replaced by Brig. Gen. Keith Waddell, currently the major general’s chief of staff. A national search is being conducted to replace Steele, meanwhile, and Gee’s replacement process will be watched with great interest.
Former health secretary Fred Cerise has been rumored as being in the running to succeed Gee, and take over his old job, and so has Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Courtney Phillips. But for now those names are speculative and nothing more.
Over at Louisiana State University, F. King Alexander served his final day as president on Dec. 31, and is headed to Oregon State University to take on the same job there. While the LSU campus and the Capitol are roughly 10 miles apart, there’s obviously still a great deal of political overlap.
For starters, the president will be selected by the LSU Board of Supervisors, which is appointed by the governor. The board is conducting its own national search for Alexander’s replacement.
LSU Law Center Dean Thomas Galligan is filling in for Alexander in the interim, but Jay Dardenne, Edwards’ commissioner of administration, has expressed interest in the job. Much like the search for the state’s new health secretary, this selection process will be watched closely.
What the Edwards administration is going through is quite normal, as there are traditionally some staffing and personnel changes from one term to the next. The real question is whether more resignations are on the way.
More than likely, based on historical turnover and the chitchat bouncing around Baton Rouge, a few other high-level modifications may be coming, maybe even on the cabinet level. How the public and Louisiana’s political class will respond to the hires to come represents another question of note.
Gee’s replacement, for one, will have to be confirmed by the state Senate, just like any other new secretary hire. In the past, the Senate has served as a backstop for governors, offering very little resistance to major asks.
The incoming Senate, however, is going to be a little different this go around. Prognosticators are expecting a more conservative body and the Republican membership will be more organized than ever.
Depending on how the new Senate leadership wants to stack the body’s committees, GOP members could cause headaches for Edwards come confirmation time. But it’ll be several weeks until we see the upper chamber in action, so that’s just more speculation for now.
Aside from freshmen members and what will be a new House speaker and Senate president — following internal elections next week — both sides of the Capitol’s Memorial Hall are slated for major changes on the staffing side. After decades of guidance from House Clerk Butch Speer and Senate Secretary Glenn Koepp, both men are retiring from their jobs with their respective chambers.
While their positions may be a little too “inside baseball” for rank-and-file voters, their jobs are nonetheless important to the Legislature — from directing traffic during busy sessions to offering lawmakers legal advice. The Senate hasn’t selected a new secretary since 2004, and the current clerk of the House was installed in 1983.
It has been so long since senators and representatives voted to fill these jobs that a new precedent could very well be set. Will the jobs become more political? Will non-attorneys be selected?
We’ll know for sure on Jan. 13.
From cabinet positions and the state’s flagship university to both the House and the Senate, we’re all in store for a new look in state government beginning next week. Politically, adaptation will be critical for long-timers who ply a trade at the Capitol — and there’s not much even name tags could do to help with that transition.