When we first decided to cover this fall’s special session with the moniker of Failure Theater, we figured it would be a nice way to indict the Republican leadership of the Louisiana Legislature for its failure to act, using available and relatively easily accessible remedies, to reopen Louisiana from Gov. John Bel Edwards’ insane and destructive economic COVID-19 restrictions.
We had no idea how appropriate Failure Theater would be as a term to describe just how bad this has been.
The current legislative session is, to use a term no longer in favor in the current vernacular but completely descriptive of reality, a debauch.
But it’s worse than that. Yes, this afternoon it’s entirely likely that the Senate will once again kick the can down the road and refuse to hold a vote on HCR 9, the legislative instrument that would suspend Edwards’ power to initiate and maintain COVID-19 shutdowns. That’s a classic case of Failure Theater in itself, of course – if you’ll remember, the Louisiana House of Representatives boiled over shortly after Edwards shut the state’s economy down over the virus, an entirely stupid response to the Chinese pandemic which has been as ineffective here as it’s been everywhere else in the world it’s been tried, but the statutory remedy of a petition signed by a majority of either house of the Legislature dissolving an emergency never could quite obtain because of the opposition of House Speaker Clay Schexnayder.
Schexnayder wants everyone to know that he had a better plan than signing the petition. Instead, his plan was to call a special session in October, more than six months after the shutdown which has devastated Louisiana’s economy and put nearly half of its small businesses in jeopardy of extinction, and pass HCR 9 through the House.
If HCR 9 had passed the Senate, one might be able to make the argument that this might have been a worthy strategy of legislative action that would stick. But that resolution, which requires majority votes in both houses and would then be immune from Edwards’ veto to strip him of his power to call a COVID public health emergency for 30 days beyond the end of the current legislative session, has languished on the Senate floor for almost two weeks now; it’s obvious, barring something none of our sources expect will happen this afternoon or at any time after, that it is highly unlikely that resolution ever sees a vote on the Senate floor.
And without HCR 9, and without a petition to reopen the state such as the efforts Schexnayder has opposed, there is absolutely zero point to calling a special session. Louisiana will not reopen until John Bel Edwards deems that it may reopen; any presentation otherwise by the Louisiana legislature is a fraud and a deception presented to the state’s people.
We have made note of this ad nauseam for the nearly three weeks this session has lazily dragged on. We’ve been told, behind the scenes, that our recognition of the session as Failure Theater is spot on. But as we’ve done so, the leadership, particularly in the House, has been increasingly irritated by the characterization of their feckless efforts to reopen the state as Failure Theater.
Why would you be angry over the characterization of Failure Theater?
If what you’re after is not Failure Theater, and you have an actual prospect of success, the proper reaction is not anger; it’s anticipation. You should be extremely excited at the prospect of making McKay eat his words and grudgingly admit that you had a plan all along that you were able to execute to the benefit of Louisiana’s people.
What you most certainly would not do would be to call a series of private meetings at which you were going to browbeat and verbally assault ordinary Louisianans for having criticized members of Schexnayder’s inner circle for their lack of progress at reopening the state.
To do that would violate practically every rule of intelligent politics, and yet on at least two occasions in recent days that’s exactly what Schexnayder and his inner circle have done.
It’s even worse than that. These meetings come off as some of the worst exercises in political opacity and suppression of citizen involvement in the political process we’ve ever seen. In fact, we’re not sure where there has ever been a precedent for what Schexnayder and his closest minions have done.
Michael Lunsford, who once in a while posts here at The Hayride, is a conservative activist in Lafayette with a blog of his own. Lunsford was invited to a meeting with Schexnayder to discuss his criticism of the Legislature’s failure to reopen the state. Last week Lunsford wrote an account of that meeting which is hard to reconcile with anything resembling political competence.
The whole meeting was a text-book example of cheap power plays and psychological tricks. Even though I arrived exactly on time, I was asked to wait. That felt a little odd considering that only two days earlier Stuart Bishop said the Speaker’s entire schedule was clear. However, I knew making someone wait is an almost cliche, albeit subtle, power move.
When I was finally shown in, nearly ten minutes late, the speaker asked me to put my phone in a basket. Once done, his assistant scurried off with it. As expected, the meeting contained Speaker Schexnayder, Pro Temp Magee, and Ways and Means Chairman Stuart Bishop. Two surprise additions included Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jean-Paul Coussan and Commerce Committee Chairman Paula Davis. Apparently Mrs. Davis is a regular at these meetings, as she also attended the previously mentioned one with the four ladies.
Bishop opened by accusing me of posting things that are not true. However, the reason for my being summoned to this particular meeting was entirely true. Stuart Bishop did, by his own admission, sign onto the Bacala petition and then remove himself. At some point in the meeting I must have mentioned this. However, the meeting was rather rapid-fire, where a different member of the five would randomly change the subject or ask an unrelated question.
You tell me, since you know so much
This was a constant theme of the meeting. They wanted me to explain my position and all the things I thought they should do. The preface was usually something like, “since you know so much.” I began talking about the eight months that have elapsed since the governor’s lockdown began. The Seabaugh petition to reopen the state was circulating as early as March but the speaker (and Stuart Bishop at first) had opposed it. Tanner Magee jumped in to ask me about my legal experience: am I an attorney, did I ask an attorney to look at the petition, etc. The point of his questioning was that all of the attorneys he’s talked to suggest the petition is an invalid solution. Although he asked me for names of attorneys who I talked to, he wasn’t prepared to offer names of those who said it wouldn’t work.
We’ve arrived that “the Seabaugh petition won’t work.” Aside from that, what has the legislature accomplished in these eight long months? The economy is shut down, we’re in 50th place, but, by george, the governor gave us high school football. Note the accomplishment isn’t “we forced the governor.” No. It’s the governor “allowed.”
Where are you getting your information?
Another recurring theme of the meeting was trying figure out, “where are you getting your information?” As if reading the Hayride or news reports wasn’t good enough. One’s opinion should be discarded who doesn’t have an apartment in the pentagon barracks, or sleeps on the capitol grounds, or eats all three meals at the Democrat Cafe in the capitol. Who really cares if the economy is shut down? We’re working really, really hard to reopen things and “you people” with opinions aren’t helping.
Someone (Mrs. Davis, perhaps) had disparaging remarks for the Hayride. I reminded the room that regardless of their opinion of the Hayride, Stuart Bishop had already confirmed his signing and removing his name from the petition, mooting their point.
But we’re really important people!
The conversation turned to reminding me that the room contained the most powerful Republicans in the entire state. Speaker Pro Temp, Tanner Magee, produced a scrap of paper with some handwritten notes. I couldn’t see it clearly from across the table. However, it was a handwritten amalgamation of several legislative scorecards. I remember him bringing up LABI and CPAC scores.
The exact numbers that came out escape me now, but I do remember someone in the room having a higher conservative rating than Beryl Amedee. This surprised me greatly because Mrs. Amedee is probably the most conservative person I know in the legislature. She just votes right, regardless of any consequences. Paula Davis suggested that Beryl Amedee wasn’t all that conservative. She added an exclamation point by asking me to tell her how many bills Mrs. Amedee had passed. I wasn’t permitted time to quote conservative icon Calvin Coolidge, “it’s much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.”
They latched on to my shock. Even though I hadn’t seen Mrs. Amedee since the state Republican Party meeting months earlier, suddenly, she’s all they wanted to talk about. I just wanted to know why the speaker (who was in attendance at that same state Republican Party meeting) blocked the membership from using the entire house chamber. He had some weird social distancing rule that allowed half of the Republicans to be in the chamber, but required the rest to stand outside in the heat. Members separated in such a way can not be expected to hold a decent meeting or have an accurate vote tally.
This particular meeting was incredibly important, too. The party held their quadrennial election for national committeeman and committeewoman. These are the two people who sit on the National Republican Party, representing Louisiana. The committeewoman vote was decided by a razor-thin margin of just one vote. The confusion caused by Clay Schexnayder’s refusal to allow the body to meet together in the same room could have been a major contributing factor to who won that race.
Lunsford’s account might come off as bizarre. After all, why on earth would a legislative House Speaker call a private citizen into a meeting wherein said citizen would be grilled as to information sources and legislative knowledge? Where is the percentage in that kind of inquiry?
It’s utterly incomprehensible. It’s such a rookie-league mistake that political pros across the country we’ve talked to in recent days can’t offer a precedent. They literally told us they never heard of something so counterproductive and stupid.
But Lunsford’s account is, amazingly enough, just prelude. On Wednesday of last week we’re told Schexnayder did it again.
Wednesday’s meeting was attended, as we understand it, by the Speaker, his political consultant Lionel Rainey, Representatives Barry Ivey, Paula Davis and Buddy Mincey, Mincey’s wife and one or two legislative staffers, and for the more than an hour it dragged on, Schexnayder and his people engaged in a series of lectures about state constitutional law (none of the speakers, as we understand it, was a lawyer), political reality and personal feelings.
The citizen attendees at the meeting were four women who were involved in the effort to get Louisiana’s high school football back on line earlier this fall, and who have since turned their attentions to the reopening of Louisiana at large. And by the end of the meeting at least one had been reduced to tears thanks to the browbeating from Schexnayder’s contingent, with a narrative along the lines of Lunsford’s description.
This is unacceptable, and it can’t be tolerated. What it says about the leadership Louisiana’s legislature currently possesses, after $7 million was spent supposedly producing the most conservative and independent legislature in the state’s history, is damning.
You could say this is Failure Theater writ large, but really, and what’s worse, it’s Failure Theater writ small. It’s Failure Little Theater. Bringing citizens in to lecture them about why you can’t act to save their businesses and livelihoods comes off as the absolute worst of narcissistic political impulses, and it begs the question of the competence of the people advising Schexnayder, not to mention his own intelligence, judgement, and moral fiber.
Frankly, it brings the House Speaker under suspicion.
Clay Schexnayder didn’t manage his Speakership through an open process. He pulled it out of a hat thanks to a very opaque and questionable process involving deals with the governor he swears hates him and that governor’s House minority allies. And Schexnayder, rather than conducting an open dialogue with the people of Louisiana or even the constituents of the 68 Republican House members who dominate the chamber, is bringing them into his office in tiny groups to be mau-maued into submission with reprimands and tirades.
And remember what this is about. He’s angry that people aren’t satisfied with his so-far-feckless efforts to reopen Louisiana. The easiest way to resolve that criticism is to actually reopen Louisiana, which he has the power to do. Simply drop his opposition to the petition to cancel Edwards’ emergency declaration, and allow that petition to reach 53 House signatures, and Clay Schexnayder is no longer responsible for the condition of Louisiana’s economy in the eyes of his constituents or the constituents of his Republican members.
Rather than simply do that – and if somehow Edwards were to take the validity of the petition to court and win, it certainly wouldn’t be Schexnayder’s fault that his efforts under the statutory law came to naught – he’s breaking his back to tamp down criticism from informed citizens for his lack of efforts to do so, going so far as to sic his legislative allies on private citizens in meetings before which he’s collecting cell phones out of a Mafia-esque effort at operational security.
Every aspect of this is abjectly wrong. All of it is illegitimate. It’s an embarrassment to Louisiana and particularly the state’s Republican voters who created a majority Schexnayder usurped on his way to the Speakership.
And something ought to be done about it before we get any further along this awful path. This is already a failed Speakership in the eyes of Louisiana’s beleaguered people. Who’s going to put this disaster down?