Sam Hanna Jr.

Much has been said of the committee assignments that Senate President Page Cortez unveiled last week, just days after he was elected by his peers to succeed John Alario.

Cortez, of Lafayette, appointed what we would describe as hardcore conservatives to chair no less than seven of the Senate’s committees including Sen. Stewart Cathey of Monroe. Cathey was awarded the Agriculture Committee, which puts him in an influential position to not only advance the needs of farmers but also secure appropriations for northeastern Louisiana simply because he’s a committee chairman and committee chairmen are granted favors when they ask.

Cathey was the only northeastern Louisiana senator to grab a committee chairmanship, which goes to show you that lawmakers who play their cards just right, including freshmen, often are awarded some of the spoils. In Cathey’s case, he committed to supporting Cortez’s bid to become Senate President early in the process, or not long after the fall elections had come to pass. And Cortez took care of him.

Other senators from the region, including Sen. Katrina Jackson and Sen. Jay Morris, both of Monroe, and Sen. Glen Womack, of LaSalle Parish, picked up choice committee assignments as well.

Womack will serve as Cathey’s vice chairman on the Agriculture Committee while Jackson and Morris both will serve on the committee, too. Womack also landed a seat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which is responsible for entertaining any tax-raising or tax-cutting measures. That’s a big get for Womack.

Jackson, who’s known for her commitment to public education, will serve as vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee. She also landed on the Senate Insurance Committee, which most certainly rankled the insurance industry since Jackson is a lawyer who sues insurance companies for a living.

Morris is the outlier of the four senators from northeastern Louisiana. He’s the outlier because he supported Sen. Rick Ward in his play to become Senate President. Ward, of course, couldn’t muster the votes to overcome Cortez, and as we often have heard, the rest is history.

Morris was expected to be punished for not falling in line and supporting Cortez from the get-go, but apparently Cortez isn’t one to harbor ill feelings. He appointed Morris to serve on the Senate Commerce Committee, which puts Morris in the catbird seat to harangue the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry anytime the state’s largest business lobby comes calling for some love for one of its members.

Which is only fitting since LABI worked triple overtime to defeat Morris in his campaign against Sen. Jim Fannin. It didn’t work out for them.

There’s a touch of irony in all of this gamesmanship in the Senate. Cortez is a LABI man, which means it was assumed Cortez would stack the Senate committees heavily in favor of LABI on the most important fronts, such as the Senate’s judiciary committees, Finance Committee, Natural Resources Committee and Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Committee. Without a doubt, those committees will be chaired by senators close to LABI, but the makeup of the committees tells us LABI won’t run the show entirely. There’s some swing votes in the mix on multiple fronts, and that tells us the Senate may not be as conservative as we had once assumed it would become.

Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at samhannajr@samhannajr.com.

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