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He was going to tick off somebody, but the Republican speaker of the state House managed to annoy many in both parties when he appointed a Gretna representative to a coveted committee chairmanship.

Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales was, believe it or not, the relative “moderate” in the race for speaker. He won the job in 2020 by cobbling together a majority of House members, but not most of his own Republicans; Democrats provided him with his victory.

And House Democrats said they were well-pleased, with Schexnayder telling them they’d get five committee chairmanships out of the deal.

That was then.

It is almost unheard of in the states for the majority party to give chairmanships or other key posts to members of the minority party, but it has been the norm in Louisiana.

Schexnayder’s election extended that tradition, and the hard-right (or, rather, harder-right) GOP members who are more party-oriented had to live with it.

Over time, and not much time, the lions have started to devour the lambs, the innocent Democrats who thought that being out of power would be without cost.

Two Democrats were separated from their gavels last year, when they voted to block Schexnayder’s bid to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ vetoes of several bills.

Another, Rep. Ted James of Baton Rouge, resigned to accept a Biden administration appointment, thus leaving open the chairmanship of the Criminal Justice Committee.

Enter Joe Marino of Gretna. He is one of the handful of no-party legislators. Schexnayder named him to take over James’ gavel.

Two, not five, Democrats are now chairing committees. The whining of the D caucus is only matched by the heartburn of the Republican members who point out that there are ten — Ten! — deserving GOP members on the panel, from whom Schexnayder could have found his appointment.

And to make matters more deliciously offensive to the GOP faithful, Marino frequently votes with Democrats anyway — although he and the other independents did help give Schexnayder a big win this year by overriding Edwards’ veto of new maps for districts in the US Congress.

Worse, for Republicans, is that Marino is a member of the criminal defense bar, typically a Democratic crowd. But the speaker gives the gavels as his own patronage. “Patronage,” wrote Benjamin Disraeli, “is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, and that is power.”

Still, power has its limits: In theory, the speaker in the House or the president in the Senate can be turned out if a majority stages a coup.

Marino’s appointment is part of Schexnayder’s balancing act that made him speaker. The big question is whether, when Schexnayder’s successor takes office in 2024 — Republicans are certain to still have a majority then — the 2020 kind of gentlemen’s agreement on power-sharing will go the way of lamb chops in a tiger cage.

Then, Democrats will have much to whine about. And independents like Marino will have much less chance of getting a gavel, too.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.

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