Some 73 percent of the respondents across the state don’t want any of the historical monuments in New Orleans – or anywhere else – taken down.
That number is actually up from the 65-68 percent who opposed taking those monuments down when asked about the issue in polls taken a year ago. Opposition has only grown.
You cannot find an issue more lopsided in American politics than one in which 73 percent of the voters are on your side. That’s three out of four. Anytime there is an issue where your position has the support of three in four voters you’ve got to seize that issue and ram it home into the world of policy.
And yet there were a pair of bills seeking to provide a mechanism by which the state might simply review any decisions to remove historical monuments and potentially stop egregious attempts at whitewashing history. SB 276 by Sen. Beth Mizell and HB 944 by Rep. Thomas Carmody both set up commissions that would have to sign off on any removal of historical treasures from public spaces in Louisiana. And both bills died in committee before even getting a full vote on the floor.
Mizell’s bill should have gone to the Senate Education Committee, which has jurisdiction over legislation having to do with historical preservation. Instead, Senate President John Alario allowed Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, the state chair of the Louisiana Democrat Party and the chair of the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee, to snatch the bill and give it a hearing – and prompt execution – in her litte fiefdom. Four white Republicans voted to move Mizell’s bill forward, five black Democrats voted to kill it. And it died.
Meanwhile, Carmody’s bill should have met a friendlier fate in the more conservative House, but not in the poorly-staffed Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee. That committee contains eight Republicans, nine Democrats and an independent – and Carmody’s bill stalled on a 7-7 vote along party lines.
The LSU survey found that only 47 percent of black respondents want those monuments removed. This is not an issue which particularly animates black voters in Louisiana. The rest of the state is almost universal in rejecting the idea of trashing the state’s history no matter how checkered it might be.
And yet the public’s overwhelming opinion can’t be reflected in the public policy its elected legislature makes.
Overwhelming majorities in Louisiana favor preserving the TOPS program as an avenue for Louisiana’s better-performing high school students to matriculate to college, and yet so far there is no legislative plan to prevent Gov. John Bel Edwards from gutting the program unless the legislature allows him to call another special session to raise more taxes – which would be even more unpopular than de-funding TOPS. And there is nothing which can be cut to keep TOPS afloat.
Louisiana’s business community wants a comprehensive tax reform plan put in place and there appears to be fairly widespread dissatisfaction with the current system and rates. And yet there is no apparent effort to make that reform – understandable to an extent, given that tax reform wasn’t part of Edwards’ call for a special session earlier this year, something he richly deserves to be attacked for. And yet no one in the legislature attacked Edwards for his refusal to bring tax reform to the forefront – there was only grumbling about the wide range of tax increases he offered, many of which passed.
In short, what we’re seeing is an abject failure of leadership in the legislature at present. There is no leadership of any kind in the Senate, and none should have been expected given that body is run by Alario, who should have been excommunicated from the Louisiana Republican Party the minute he joined it; Alario is Edwards’ trained monkey just like he was Bobby Jindal’s and before that Kathleen Blanco’s, and he will direct the Senate as Edwards wills. But in the House, one would have hoped to see a bit more spine and a bit more ambition than we’ve seen so far.
Particularly since Taylor Barras as the Speaker was independently elected and not chosen by the governor. Barras and his leadership team have the ability to chart their own course and not just attempt to be a speed bump to Edwards’ agenda. And if the House can’t even move a bill to save Lee Circle or TOPS, one wonders what value an independent legislature could possibly have.