BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republicans now have a two-thirds supermajority in both the Louisiana House and Senate after the state’s longest serving legislator switched parties Friday, giving the GOP the power to override gubernatorial vetoes.
Rep. Francis Thompson, who has served as a Democratic lawmaker in northeast Louisiana for nearly 50 years, changed his party registration Friday — becoming the 70th Republican member in the state House. The GOP already had a supermajority in the state Senate.
“The push the past several years by Democratic leadership on both the national and state level to support certain issues does not align with those values and principles that are part of my Christian life,” Thompson, 81, said.
Thompson, who was first elected in 1974, has served 12 years in the Senate and 37 years in the House. But despite, long identifying as blue, the lawmaker described his voting record as “conservative” and has strayed from his Democratic counterparts on notable bills.
In 2021, Thompson joined Republicans as the only Democrat to call for the state’s first veto override session — under the state’s 50-year-old constitution — with the hopes of overturning Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ rejection of bills that would ban transgender girls from school sports and remove restrictions on concealed handguns. The legislature has the constitutional power to override a gubernatorial veto if two-thirds of both chambers vote in favor of it. However, the session collapsed after House Republicans couldn’t garner enough votes.
However, last year Thompson again joined Republicans to call for a veto override session, in which the GOP successfully overturned Edwards’ veto of a congressional map.
“While Rep. Thompson’s decision (to switch parties) is disappointing, it is not surprising. He already caucused with Republicans,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Sam Jenkins said in a written statement Friday.
Louisiana GOP Chairman Louis Gurvich described news of the new supermajority as “historic” and that Rep. Thompson joining Republicans is “further evidence of Louisiana’s yearning for conservative values and a rejection of Washington liberal politics.”
Over the past few decades, Republicans have gained significant ground in the Deep South state. Up until 2011, Democrats held majorities in the Legislature. Today, along with the GOP supermajorities in the Legislature, both of the state’s U.S. senators are Republican, along with all but one of the six U.S. representatives.
The state has voted Republican in every presidential election since 2000. Of the state’s registered voters, 39% are Democrats, 34% are Republicans and 27% have registered under another party or no party, according to recent data from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office. Over the past couple decades, registered Democrats have immensely decreased. In 2000, Democrats made up 60% of registered voters.
Although Louisiana has transformed into a reliably red state, Gov. Edwards is a Democrat — with a military background and conservative social agenda, including being anti-abortion. Edwards is unable to seek reelection in October due to term limits. The upcoming legislative session, which begins April 10, will be his last session as governor.
All lawmakers’ seats will be up for election this year. Democratic leadership say they are hopeful they will see more Democrats in the Legislature this fall.
“We’re proud of the work that House and Senate Democrats are doing,” said Katie Bernhardt, the chair of the Louisiana Democrats. “We believe that voters will reward them in October, electing more Democrats to the Legislature to break this supermajority.”