Here’s How The Union Dues Bill Died, And Here’s What Can Be Done About It

In the House Labor Committee earlier tonight, HB 552 – which would have ended the corrupt practice by which public employee union dues paid by state and local governments get directed by labor bosses to Democrat politicians – was defeated on a 7-6 vote thanks to two stunningly dumb political moves by a pair of committee members and some bought-and-paid-for old-time Louisiana politics.

The bill, by Rep. Alan Seabaugh, would have done something very simple – make unionized public employees pay their dues out of their own pockets rather than have state and local governments paying those dues when payroll checks were cut. Nothing in the bill would have prevented the unions from collecting dues from their members. In fact, that’s exactly what the bill was going to do – make the unions collect those dues rather than have government do it.

When the unions have to collect those dues, history shows their membership takes a dive. Dues by payroll deduction is one thing – nobody sees the money leave their bank account or actually writes the check. But when the union member physically pays those dues, even via an automatic bank draft, he or she sees the money disappear. And the accountability to the membership that produces is a nightmare for the unions; where bills like HB 552 have passed before, union membership has plummeted as much as 80 percent.

So the unions, and particularly the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, saw this bill as an existential threat. And because they did, they went out and hired Haynie & Associates, the lobbying firm most people at the Capitol think is the baddest kid in the schoolyard, to work the bill.

Haynie & Associates, as of this morning, is on record as having been paid between $25,000 and $49,999 since April 19 by the American Federation of Teachers, LFT’s parent organization (and an affiliate of the AFL-CIO). To lobby the House Labor Committee for HB 552. We’ll know within a couple of weeks, in all likelihood, if that’s all the firm has been paid.

And AFT got value for that check. Because two members of the committee who by all rights had no business not voting for HB 552, killed the bill.

One of the two, independent Dee Richard of Thibodaux, who had been heavily lobbied by lots of people he can thank for having been elected in the first place to vote for the bill, turned on those people and voted for a motion to involuntarily defer the bill. Richard’s vote was the seventh of 13, making him the executioner of a reform aimed at getting money out of politics.

Richard’s vote was the product of a masterful piece of lobbying by Ryan Haynie on AFT’s behalf. And this was highly surprising, seeing as though among the supporters Haynie got Richard to double-cross were the Associated Building Contractors, Associated General Contractors, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the Louisiana Association of Manufacturers. In other words, pretty much all of the most active business trade groups at the capitol.

If you happen to live in Richard’s district, you’re a pro-business conservative and you’d like to be a state representative, feel free to contact us and we’ll introduce you to some folks who might become your new best friends – because Richard has more or less cut his own throat with those people after leading them to believe he was going to vote for the bill.

Richard led former Rep. Jeff Landry to believe he was going to vote for the bill when the latter contacted him last week in support of making the unions collect dues from their own members rather than the taxpayers, and Landry all but swore out revenge on Richard tonight after finding out about the vote.

Here’s something else interesting – one of the Haynies’ clients is Bollinger Shipyards. We’ve heard Boysie Bollinger was one of the people who called Richard in the past week asking him to vote for the bill. If you’re Boysie Bollinger, how much of an explanation do you require from your lobbyist who killed a bill you got involved in trying to get passed?

The Haynies also represent the charter schools association (CORRECTION: They represent Charter Schools USA), which might not be all that excited about Ryan Haynie winning bills on behalf of the teacher unions who are the sworn enemies of the charter schools.

But lobbying is a peculiar profession. What might look like a conflict of interest to the naked eye could be completely justifiable. The Haynies took on a client, they got paid, and they delivered a result for that client. Whatever the result from a political or policy standpoint, Ryan Haynie deserves credit for a job well done.

Even more interesting is that after the vote, two different people who were there heard Richard attempt to justify it by saying he didn’t understand the bill. This was one of the simplest bills introduced at the legislature this year. Seabaugh said as much when he presented it to the committee and so did LFT president Steve Monaghan when he spoke against it. Which means Richard is either one of the dumbest people in the legislature – Pat Smith and Kenny Cox are on the Labor Committee and neither one of them were too confused about what they were voting on to make a mistake – or he flat-out lied about his vote. Either example would dictate that Thibodaux can do better, and needs to in the 2015 elections.

Richard has never really run against a well-funded or well-known Republican. District 55, which he represents, is one of those typical South Louisiana demographic samples; it’s about three-quarters white, and registered voters in the district are a little less than half registered Democrats with the rest fairly evenly split between Republicans and independents. Most of those white Democrats will vote Republican at the drop of a hat; they don’t register as Republicans because there is no particular reason to. In other words, he could easily be beaten if there were to be a decent GOP candidate in a race with him.

The guess here is he’ll have himself just such an opponent. And if any of our readers are interested in filling that role, like we said, we’ll gladly facilitate the proper introductions.

But it wasn’t just Richard who killed the bill. A Republican on the committee, Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales, “walked” on the bill.

This was one of the stupidest and most cowardly things a state legislator has done in a while at the Capitol.

Schexnayder had told one member of one of the business trade groups when he was running for election back in 2011 that he was no genius but they could count on him to be a reliable vote in the Legislature. But when tonight’s vote came up and absolutely everyone knew it was an all-hands-on-deck situation for Republicans, Schexnayder disappeared. He made an excuse that he was meeting with someone from Shell Oil about the budget.

Nobody believed that excuse.

Schexnayder, like Richard, took a ton of money from business trade groups when he ran in 2011, and he rode LABI’s endorsement to a victory in a huge field full of candidates. But when those supporters of his needed his vote, he was nowhere to be found, and that won’t be forgotten in two years. Once again, if you’re in his district – which includes parts of southern Livingston Parish, the eastern part of Ascension (including French Settlement) and down into St. James and St. John – and you’re a pro-business conservative who might like to be a state representative, then contact us and we’ll introduce you to the right people. Schexnayder won’t be tough to beat, even though one of his biggest fans is Edwin Edwards’ trophy wife.

Richard and Schexnayder are lousy legislators who need to go – when you have virtually no union presence in your district and you call yourself a conservative and then you act to kill such a bright-line piece of legislation like this, you’re irredeemable – but in the wake of tonight’s disaster it might be worth taking a step back and recognizing there’s a structural problem here.

Because a Republican-dominated legislature with a Republican governor should hardly have a problem getting a Republican bill out of a committee. It was almost a sure thing – even with the Haynies working the bill for the teachers’ unions there were more than enough votes to pass it on both the House and Senate floors, and the Senate Labor committee easily had four of seven votes for passage.

And yet the bill couldn’t even move because the Labor Committee in the House doesn’t even have a Republican majority. Its makeup is seven Republicans, seven Democrats and Richard.

You really have to question the sanity of a Republican House Speaker who puts a major committee together where, with 59 of 105 House members being Republican, you don’t even have a majority in your party on the panel. To call this essentially malpractice is kind; it’s more like giving away the store. Tonight was a lesson in why when the voters give you the power to drive home your agenda you had damn well better exercise that power. But they don’t call the GOP the Stupid Party for nothing; staffing a committee such that one has to rely on Richard and Schexnayder to pass an important bill is playing with fire.

And tonight, Chuck Kleckley got burned – along with the conservative movement and the business folks whose resources put the GOP in power in the first place.

If the fiasco of the budget negotiations didn’t make it clear, the vote on HB 552 was an unmistakable indication that we’ve still got a ton of work to do in getting a decent state legislature. Now we at least know two specific districts which must be improved.

Perhaps we should be thankful for the lesson.

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