For Crying Out Loud, Schexnayder, Just Fire Ted James

I’m sick of writing about Clay Schexnayder’s inept, weak leadership in the Louisiana House of Representatives, but at the end of the day I don’t have much choice in the matter. The strange refusal to assert power over political opponents which has colored this entire legislative session just keeps metastasizing, and now it’s likely to derail Schexnayder’s efforts to pass tax reform.

Interestingly enough, passing any actual beneficial tax reform is a complete pipe dream in this session. Gov. John Bel Edwards has already said he would veto any tax reform which isn’t “revenue-neutral,” which means any real broad-based reform which benefits the people of the state is out. What’s being debated is who gets a break at whose expense, which is the kind of thing politicians love to do – it sets special interests and lobbyists against each other and more or less turns a legislative session into an auction.

What needs to happen is the kind of thing Conrad Appel keeps talking about here at The Hayride, which is a complete reimagining of the relationship between state and local government and the citizens, with an eye toward successfully competing economically with our neighbors. But that isn’t on offer at the Capitol. Not with this leadership.

So what they’re fighting about is tiny changes to the state’s tax code which might – might – make small improvements in certain economic sectors. Eliminating tax breaks for some while flattening corporate income tax rates, for example, but when you’re doing that in Louisiana and in Texas, Florida and Tennessee (and, soon, Mississippi) they don’t even have a corporate income tax, it’s awfully risky business trying not to lose companies and jobs to your neighbors.

Everybody knows that any wins along these lines will be stupendously difficult to achieve. It’s a high-risk, low-reward game Schexnayder is playing, and he probably needs to cooperation of the Legislative Black Caucus on any tax reform plan knowing that Edwards is likely to veto most of what the House and Senate might pass. A lot of these bills need 70 votes in the House to move anyway, and there are only 68 Republicans in the body.

Which is why Ted James, who chairs the Black Caucus, has latched onto the controversy around Rep. Ray Garofalo’s bill limiting the teaching of Critical Race Theory in Louisiana’s public schools and has attempted to make himself the de-facto House Speaker by use of threats against Schexnayder.

James demanded Garofalo be dumped as the chairman of the House Education committee, ostensibly because he “promoted slavery” during the committee hearing on HB 564, his critical race theory bill. That, frankly, was a ruse – what James wanted was to punish Garofalo for bringing the bill at all. The Black Caucus is insistent on pushing CRT in the schools because they know that Democrats in Louisiana can’t win statewide elections, Edwards’ anomalous 2015 and 2019 victories notwithstanding, without manufacturing a whole bunch more white leftists.

James is a clown, but he’s at least acting with a purpose.

The problem is that Schexnayder’s fellow Republicans put their foot down and said “no way” to the idea of Garofalo’s ouster. So that entire situation is in limbo, with the Black Caucus’ demands continuing and Schexnayder neither telling them yes or no. And the Republicans in the House, or at least most of them, are shaking their heads in amazement at the lack of resolution when it’s very obvious what the play is.

What James is saying now might make it obvious even to Schexnayder.

The Black caucus is withholding support for far-reaching tax measures sought by the legislative leadership to protest House Speaker Clay Schexnayder’s inaction on whether to keep state Rep. Ray Garofalo as chairman of the Education Committee.

The first short-term casualty came on Monday with House Bill 275, which would carry out a complicated tax swap. The bill represents a part of an ambitious effort by Republican legislators to overhaul the state’s tax code in the legislative session that ends June 10. State Rep. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, chose to have the House skip over his measure rather than face a certain defeat.

The Black lawmakers are pushing to remove Garofalo who, after being warned privately not to do so, presented a racially-charged bill on April 27 before the Education Committee that would ban K-12 schools and universities from offering courses that included “divisive concepts,” such as that the state and country are racist or sexist. Lawmakers on the committee did not approve Garofalo’s measure, House Bill 564.

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he has met “too many” times over the past week to discuss concerns about Garofalo – and racially-insensitive comments by other White members – with Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, and House Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee, R-Houma, to no avail.

Now the caucus is leveraging its influence on tax votes, which require at least 70 votes, a two-thirds majority, to win passage.

“All 70-vote bills are where our caucus can show our concern and displeasure,” James said in an interview.

Memo to Clay Schexnayder: if you need the whole Black Caucus, or a whole bunch of them thanks to the fact the conservatives in the House are generally tepid if not hostile to these tax bills, to pass them, the chances are pretty good they’re going to die in the Senate anyway.

You’re likely going to lose on this agenda. It was never going to work. And now Ted James is in a position to claim victory over you as revenge for your not rolling over on Garofalo.

You’re giving him a victory he didn’t earn based on a fight he created out of thin air. Garofalo hasn’t done anything racist – in fact, trying to put a stop to critical race theory is standard operating procedure for legislatures all over the country. Those bills are passing all over the place. It’s insane one isn’t going to pass here, and it’s a manifest failure of Schexnayder’s Republican leadership that Garofalo’s bill hasn’t even made it to the House floor.

And Ted James isn’t untouchable. Not by a long shot. In fact, Schexnayder gave James the chairmanship of the House Criminal Justice committee. That’s a pretty plum assignment for a left-wing Democrat, particularly in a House of Representatives with 68 Republicans out of 105 members.

Which means Ted James actually has something to lose here. This isn’t a free shot for him. All it takes is for Schexnayder to realize the position he’s in and do the obvious thing.

Dump him out of his chair. Replace him with Tony Bacala, the Republican from Prairieville (and a former Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy) who’s currently the vice-chairman. Then put the word out that the Speaker needs committee chairmen who act to help further the legislative agenda, rather than opposing it, and publicly attacking fellow committee chairmen will also not be tolerated.

There are six Democrats chairing committees in the House. No other state legislature does business this way. Republican majorities should mean Republican committee chairs. And no, it isn’t “Washington politics” to operate that way; not when all of our neighbors organize their legislatures based on partisan lines.

There ought to be five Democrats chairing committees. And if James’ allies don’t like that, then there ought to be four. Or three.

Or none.

The only reason James has leverage on Schexnayder is that he allows it. The Black Caucus threw their votes to him and made him Speaker. But that was a year and a half ago; Schexnayder has had more than enough time to make his peace with the 45 Republicans who didn’t vote for him. If he still hasn’t done that, he’s hit his deadline and it’s time for him to choose his own party over the other one.

That probably means the tax reform agenda is dead. So be it. We shouldn’t want to do major tax reform with a socialist Democrat governor like John Bel Edwards in the first place. There are lots of other pieces of substantial legislation Schexnayder can focus on passing for the rest of his term and thus leave a legacy. He needs to think about ways to do that which don’t involve continuing to coddle the Ted Jameses of the world.

And for Pete’s sake, give Garofalo a statement of support. Letting one of your chairman twist in the wind like this is nothing short of disgraceful.

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