Louisiana lawmaker who skipped Constitutional Carry vote facing backlash

AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte

And rightfully so, given the shameful way that Constitutional Carry was defeated last session. You might recall that the Republican-controlled legislature approved the permitless carry bill with enough votes to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto, at least if all of the lawmakers stuck together.

Instead, a couple of Republican state senators ended up skipping the override session, with Sen. Ronnie Johns supposedly unable to attend because of knee surgery. As we noted at the time, however, there were rumors that Johns was going to be appointed by Edwards to the state’s powerful Gaming Commission, which indeed happened not long after the veto override failed.

But Johns still needs to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled state Senate, and this weekend a faction of GOP activists launched an effort to block Johns’ appointment, arguing that he shouldn’t be rewarded for blocking passage of a key legislative priority.

Johns’ critics pushed a resolution at the Republican State Central Committee meeting Saturday to request the GOP-controlled Senate block Johns’ appointment to lead the Gaming Control Board.  The resolution ultimately failed because the committee didn’t have enough members in attendance at the meeting to take a vote.

There are 230 people on the committee, and representatives for only 90 votes were still in attendance when the resolution came up for a vote. Some attendees were voting for multiple members by proxy.

Right before the resolution on Johns was to be debated, Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, asked the committee for a quorum call to check if enough voting members were present. Hewitt is the head of the senate committee that will vote whether to confirm Johns as a gambling regulator.

As a senator, Johns was well-liked, respected and considered honest and fair by colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He is also a big booster for the gambling industry and was not shy about wanting the gambling regulator position. Casinos are among the biggest employers and an economic engine in Lake Charles, which Johns represented.

Johns could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Johns wasn’t the only GOP senator to originally vote for Constitutional Carry only to withhold his support during the veto override session. Besides Johns skipping the vote, Sen. Patrick Connick flip-flopped on his support, along with several other senators from both sides of the aisle.

According to the official vote count, the GOP’s Louie Bernard and Franklin Foil also switched from supporting the legislation during the regular session to voting against it in the veto override attempt. Additionally, Democrats Gary Carter, Jr. and Gary Smith, Jr. decided to toe the party line and back Edwards’ veto despite voting in favor of Constitutional carry just a few weeks ago.

Personally, I think the state party should sanction every Republican who flipped on Constitutional Carry, but Johns’ case is a little different that those sitting lawmakers, who can at least be challenged in a party primary. Johns wants to leave the Senate and assume the top slot at the state’s Gaming Board, so the easiest way for the party to punish him for his defection would be for his fellow senators to reject his nomination.

Even though the resolution to deny Johns his position on the Gaming Board failed on Saturday, his colleagues have been put on notice that the senator’s unwillingness to vote for Constitutional Carry when it really counted has rightfully (and righteously) ticked off many conservatives, and they don’t think Johns deserves to be rewarded for his legislative duplicity. We’ll see if that’s enough to doom his nomination to defeat, but if not don’t be surprised if grassroots activists in the state start demanding even more changes and accountability from state GOP leaders.