On Monday night, while much of the country tuned into the beginning of the college football championship game between Alabama and Clemson, Les Miles, the equally beleaguered and beloved head coach of LSU, put on a tuxedo and drove over to Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge. He may be one of the most famous and most easily recognizable people in the state of Louisiana, but he managed to walk around the event without much notice. John Bel Edwards was hosting a reception for his core supporters before the official inaugural ball, and Coach Miles was there to shake hands with his new governor.
Only seven months before, Les Miles stood behind Bobby Jindal at the Governor’s Mansion during the very first fundraiser for Jindal’s ultimately doomed presidential campaign.
But a lot has changed in the last seven months. (And, in fairness to Coach Miles, it probably would have been nearly impossible to say no when the governor invites you over to his house, even if you would rather not be there and even if you would never give a dime to his campaign).
State Rep. Neil Abramson also showed up later on Monday night at the larger inaugural ball, but if I had to guess, I’d bet that no one involved in organizing the event wanted him there. Unlike Les Miles, he most certainly did not show up to pay his respects to the new governor, a man who he had disrespected publicly earlier in the day.
Only hours before, Abramson, a Democrat from New Orleans, helped to sabotage the candidacy of Walt Leger, a fellow Democrat from New Orleans, in his bid to become the next Speaker of the House. Leger had been endorsed by the governor and had been expected to be elected, albeit narrowly. When the election kicked off shortly before Edwards took the oath of office, Abramson hijacked Leger’s campaign by running against him, drawing two votes (including his own) and throwing the whole thing into disarray and confusion.
No doubt, this was a carefully planned effort. Cameron Henry, the Republican candidate who had long been considered Leger’s one and only challenger, split his party’s vote with another unexpected candidate, Taylor Barras. After the first ballot, Leger finished first with 49 votes, Henry second with 28, Barras third with 26, and Abramson last with two. Quoting from The Advocate (bold mine):
Newly elected Republican Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, of New Orleans, was the subject of a threat to gather signatures for a recall petition filed by some of her GOP constituents over worries that she would back Leger, which she did in the first ballot. In the second vote, Hilferty voted for Barras. Her support along with Henry’s votes and the backing of Democratic Rep. Neil Abramson, of New Orleans, provided the Republican’s margin of victory.
Abramson was the only one of the House’s 42 Democrats to back Barras. Seven Republicans went with Leger in the final tally and the two representatives without party affiliation split their vote between the two candidates.
In other words, it is entirely conceivable that Leger could have picked up the additional four votes necessary had he not been the victim of intra-party subterfuge by Abramson. Conservative commentators have already suggested that Abramson orchestrated this maneuver in order to score the chairmanship of the Civil Law Committee, which seems crass.
Regardless though, Abramson helped provide the Louisiana Republican Party with both a public relations and political victory on the very day that a Democrat was sworn in as governor, marking the first time in state history that the governor’s endorsed candidate for Speaker was defeated. Almost immediately after Barras won the speakership, Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum declared victory.
Barras may prove to be a thoughtful and fair-minded Speaker, and following his election, he made it clear he intended on appointing members to positions of power in a way that reflects the state’s diversity. That’s a good start. Gov. Edwards was also gracious toward Barras; his spokesman emphasized their commitment to bipartisan cooperation.
But none of this excuses Abramson’s Machiavellian machinations. He sabotaged his colleagues, his party, and his governor, and in so doing, he made it exponentially more difficult to pass Edwards’ agenda. It is telling that seven Republicans crossed over to vote for Leger, the Democrat, and only one Democrat- Neil Abramson- voted for Barras, the Republican.
There’s a difference between being the Mad Hatter and just being mad.