Bottom-of-the-barrel turnout predictions and a general lack of interest may have tricked voters into undervaluing the special election for treasurer that was concluded over the weekend. That was unfortunate, because the race transformed the victor, by default and almost immediately, into one of the most influential politicians in Louisiana. But because just 12.5 percent of the electorate weighed in on the race, and due to the drizzle of media coverage it received, most Bayou State residents will sit down for Thanksgiving dinner this week completely unaware. A remarkable alteration to the Bayou State’s political fabric commenced Saturday, when former state Rep. John Schroder of Covington took over where U.S. Sen. John Kennedy — Louisiana’s last elected treasurer — left off. Literally and figuratively. Nothing had been acknowledged publicly as of Monday morning, but Schroder and his team had been meeting with department officials ahead of the anticipated transition.
He is said to be considering very few organizational changes and would likely to keep Kennedy-era staffing structures in place. That definitely applies to acting Treasurer Ron Henson, who could be in a good spot to become the institutional backbone of the Schroder administration. The key alliance to track under this scenario, however, will be between the treasurer-elect and the former treasurer. Schroder and Kennedy already have strong connections, and Schroder campaigned as a Kennedy-like successor. Put another way, a political relationship is in place and ready to bloom. That must not be a very comforting notion to Gov. John Bel Edwards and his troops on the Capitol’s fourth floor. There are already predictions being made there that Schroder will open fire regularly on the governor in the coming months, and that he’ll become an anti-governor surrogate for reporters. (Much like Kennedy was when he worked in Baton Rouge.) What makes this alliance truly fascinating are the persistent rumors that Kennedy wants to run for governor. If the rumors are true, then Schroder’s gubernatorial watchdog role could become all the more important to the Kennedy camp. But the last thing Schroder wants to look like is a Kennedy clone. Especially when there are more than a few notable differences. While Kennedy reshaped the position of treasurer into a kind of fiscal watchdog post, Schroder arrives to the office having already developed a similar brand of his own, as one of the founders of the House Fiscal Hawks. That’s why the halls of the Capitol are where Schroder will truly stand apart from his predecessor. In fact, this past weekend saw Schroder become the first former legislator elected as treasurer in more than two decades. Later in his own tenure as treasurer, Kennedy found some successes in partnering with lawmakers, mostly Rep. Dee Richard of Thibodaux and largely on the issue of state contracts. But pure policymaking was never central to the former treasurer’s playbook. Kennedy seemed more interested in participating in budget debates and picking apart executive decisions. Schroder, on the other hand, should be able to take the department’s legislative relations to new levels, given his knowledge of the budget process and the meaningful relationships he has maintained inside the rails.
More specifically, watch for some synergy to develop between the Schroder administration and GOP House Speaker Taylor Barras. The two men are said to share a solid bond. The first test for Schroder comes very soon. Next year’s legislative sessions may get underway when Mardi Gras ends. Those sessions will be heavy on fiscal policies, which Schroder promised voters would be his top priority. How he engages with lawmakers and works with the press between now and the spring should give us a decent indication of what kind of treasurer he will become. If Schroder does adopt any of Kennedy’s habits as the newest member of the treasury family, the same zeal for fundraising would be a helpful one to pick up. That’s because his victory in Saturday’s special election simply set the stage for the regularly-scheduled election in 2019. It’s doubtful that Schroder’s team will allow him to take a break from the fundraising circuit. Among the real and potential candidates who will have to qualify in 2019, Schroder is a few steps behind. He’ll also have to figure out how to best leverage his shortened incumbency in a way that keeps the field clear. If all goes as planned, Schroder will be sworn into office during the first week of December. But what will happen after that? Well, Schroder is said to be moving forward with the planning of an online portal that will track tax money coming into and going out of state coffers.