April 16, 2009 — Legislators pulled no punches Thursday as they ousted Senate President Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg after months of being fed up with what they called his lack of involvement.
Sealing the deal was the approval of a resolution to reorganize the majority caucus, which puts Sen. Louis P. Hill at the helm of the Senate and cuts the former 10-member team of Democrats down to a mixed eight-man group, substituting Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe for Sen. Alvin L. Williams.
While Dowe takes Hill's place as the head of the Appropriations and Budget Committee, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone has been brought in to take over for Williams as chair of the Committee on Planning and Environmental Protection.
Voting in favor the resolution during the 28th Legislature's first full session were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Dowe, Hill, Neville James, Wayne James, Sammuel Sanes, Patrick Simeon Sprauve and Michael Thurland.
Malone, along with Sens. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Usie R. Richards, Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly, Celestino A. White Sr. and Williams abstained.
Donastorg — who started out the day in the president's chair but left the floor after abruptly adjourning the session around 1 p.m. — was absent for the vote. Coming on the heels of press release issued Tuesday night about the governor being involved in a plot to overthrow him, Donastorg's departure was also prefaced Thursday by a back and forth discussion about how short the session's agenda was.
"I was hoping the agenda would be filled with more items," Donastorg said, after senators had considered a short list of nominees for key government positions and open spots on various boards and commissions. The remark opened the door for pockets of heated discussion around the room, along with some "cussing," which Donastorg made note of during his last seconds on the microphone and after the session ended.
"For me to subject myself to that and allow for the profanity to be thrown after me was to put myself in the middle of a process that was intended to displace and disenfranchise me," Donastorg said Thursday night. "And I don't know how they can blame me for bills not being on the agenda if they haven't drafted the bills."
With two bills left hanging on the day's agenda — and one special order in the middle of a vote — Donastorg banged the gavel and adjourned the session. Senators immediately began to protest, and no one other than Donastorg left the floor. While majority members began to caucus, Richards and White said senators would soon be calling the session back into order.
Just seven minutes later, Sanes asked for a quorum call, which had to be done twice since the Legislature's stenographer wasn't on the floor. As soon as senators went back on the record, a motion was made to waive the rules and finish out the session with Thurland and Hill temporarily taking over the president and vice president's seats.
Three bills were then debated and approved — leaving the reorganization as the last order of business for the day. Senators laid all their cards on the table, calling Donastorg out for missing majority caucus meetings, breaking agreements and halting progress over the last three months. There was no other choice, they said, the work wasn't being done and a change had to be made.
Donastorg said later that senators had butted heads over his call for a repeal of the controversial Act 6905, which, among other things, instituted pay raises for senators and the governor. While Senate Majority Leader Neville James said Donastorg had agreed early on that the act would "not be an issue," Donastorg said Thursday that there was never was never such an agreement, and that senators were afraid of what would be exposed by his recent request for an audit on the Legislature's operations and finances.
"We're not trying to play politics at all cost," said Senate Majority Leader Neville James. "I'm embarrassed that at this stage in the game, on April 16 — 95 days into the 28th Legislature — that we're sitting here with an agenda with one bill and eight nominations on it. We've failed up to this point, and I'll be man enough to admit it."
Donastorg had "no desire" to be a team player, James said later. James' statements about Government House not being involved in the reorganization were echoed Thursday by the governor's spokesman Jean. P Greaux Jr., who said in a statement that the governor doesn't get involved in legislative matters but rather continues to focus on doing his own job.
To make up for lost time, senators will be sitting down to two days worth of session at the end of May. Meanwhile, bills and committee meetings will be rolling, James told senators during the session.
Some senators said they were voting for the reorganization with a heavy heart. Others, such as White, commended the majority caucus for being willing to look "at a situation that was broken and deciding to fix it."
"This was a good example of individuals not really understanding their function," White said. "None of you should feel bad about doing something."
And most didn't. With the economy crumbling and crime on the rise, the Legislature has to start doing its job, several senators said.
"I voted for this man and this man let me down," Sanes said. "All of us should be ashamed — all of us who voted for that man should be ashamed because we expected that man to fulfill and he let us down. This is ridiculous — 90 freaking days and we have nothing to show. Nothing at all. But it stops here."
By wiping the slate clean, senators now have the opportunity to work really hard and prepare a legislative agenda filled with bills that impact resident's lives, Hill said after the resolution passed.
"The work that's before us is serious," he said. "We are in difficult times and it requires all of us to be statesmen, to be team players and to be able while we lead, to follow, understanding that this institution cannot function without the continued support of the majority and cannot be successful without the continued input from everybody."
In his first official act as president, Hill adjourned the session at 3:35 p.m.
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