On Wednesday we got to see one of the dumbest political self-immolations in modern times, and it’s a perfect example of why people look upon Republicans as the Stupid Party.
Recognize that what makes the Stupid Party isn’t the party itself, more often than not. It’s the inability of the GOP to rein in its most egregiously stupid members. And it’s never been possible for the GOP leadership in the Louisiana legislature to rein in Barry Ivey, a third-termer from Central who has been in the legislature for a decade and managed to learn precisely nothing about how the legislative process works.
Here’s a basic piece of negotiation which particularly applies in a legislative setting. If you have something you’re willing to do which would make the opposite side happy, something which doesn’t represent a particular sacrifice on your part but would be seen as quite valuable by your negotiating counterpart, that something is what’s known as a bargaining chip.
And specifically, this week as the Louisiana legislature is meeting to redraw district maps for a host of political offices in its decennial reapportionment session, the question of a second majority-black Louisiana Supreme Court district is on the table as such a bargaining chip.
There are seven Supreme Court districts. Currently six of the Supreme Court seats are held by white Republicans while one is held by a black Democrat, Piper Griffin, who holds the seat former Chief Justice Bernette Johnson was in. There has been an issue in recent years with white Democrat trial lawyer money coming in behind Republican judicial candidates who are largely wolves in sheep’s clothing; sometimes those candidates have won and sometimes they haven’t, but the upshot is that the 6-1 majority on the Supreme Court is solid with respect to some things and not solid at all with respect to others.
What that means is you might actually have a better Supreme Court from a Republican or conservative standpoint if the Court was a 5-2 split than it currently is, depending on how you draw that second majority-black district. Last year there was even a push, favored by Attorney General Jeff Landry, to expand the Supreme Court to nine seats, so as to make possible a 6-3 split and in so doing virtually assure the six justices would be Cajun Antonin Scalias. That failed, but the idea of drawing another majority-black Supreme Court seat is still a viable one from a strategic standpoint.
So Ivey brought a bill with a 5-2 Supreme Court map in the redistricting session.
Before he did that, though, he didn’t confer with anybody in the Republican delegation. No strategy to use that 5-2 map as a concession to earn something in return from the Legislative Black Caucus was formed. He just brought the bill.
And the rest of the delegation wasn’t particularly interested in giving away a Republican Supreme Court seat without getting anything in return, even if such a move would make for a more conservative Court at the end of the day. If you’ve been in or around a legislative setting for any length of time you usually learn pretty quickly that these deals are how the process works.
So Ivey brought his bill and the other Republicans soon commenced to grumbling. As they should. These guys all know Ivey’s M.O. by now – he does stupid, unstrategic things and makes no effort to tie his actions to overall strategies, and when he can’t generate a following for his stupid, unstrategic initiatives he becomes surly and trashes his colleagues. This pattern having repeated itself ad nauseam already, they weren’t interested in doing it again.
And here’s how that went.
After his bill was tabled without discussion on the Louisiana House of Representatives floor in a rare procedural move, Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, vented for more than eight minutes in a speech to members.
“We all say, ‘It’s not about race. We’ve grown. We’ve matured, We’ve evolved, right? We’re enlightened,’” Ivey said. “But what do we do? We repeat ourselves because we don’t learn from history.”
Ivey’s bill was one of four options lawmakers advanced with new Supreme Court district boundaries. There are seven seats on the court, with one representing a district with a minority population of more than 50%. Rep. Wilford Carter, D-Lake Charles, has two bills that add a second minority district, and both advanced Wednesday from the House redistricting committee.
Another bill from Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, keeps the court’s minority district count at one. The House redistricting committee also moved her map favorably Wednesday. It already has the full Senate’s approval.
Thursday the House was in a position to pass Hewitt’s bill and keep the Supreme Court at 6-1, barring a veto from Gov. John Bel Edwards which, as Jeff Sadow noted, was probably not going to happen. So if the Legislative Black Caucus wanted one of Wilford Carter’s bills to pass rather than Hewitt’s bill, it was time to start negotiating and making offers.
The point being that Barry Ivey wasn’t in a position to command anything, and his bill wasn’t going to pass on the floor. It was a waste of time even to bring it. Ivey didn’t have a constituency to represent in those negotiations. Carter did, and Hewitt’s allies did; he didn’t.
What brought on Ivey’s rant? Well…
Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington, offered a motion to table Ivey’s bill in the middle of debate over his map. It effectively killed the proposal without lawmakers having to officially go on the record as voting for or against it.
After the 53-42 vote to table his bill, Ivey chided his colleagues for not heeding the input many received during a statewide round of redistricting hearings ahead of the session.
“When groups of people in our state do not vote because they feel that their vote doesn’t count… what do we say? We’re saying we haven’t evolved at all,” he said.
Ivey said he doesn’t intend to propose any bills in the upcoming regular session – maybe not next year either – and will instead work with other lawmakers to support their causes.
“Because being principled, trying to be consistent isn’t necessarily politically expedient,” Ivey said.
Without naming specific lawmakers, Ivey called the Legislature “the laziest group of people I’ve ever worked with” and that members prioritize “playing politics” over the livelihoods of Louisiana residents.
“Last year, what you’ll find is if (a bill) wasn’t backed by the pockets of corporate special interests, it didn’t have much of a shot,” Ivey said.
When Ivey said his colleagues were lazy, that was when Wright got irritated and moved to table his bill. And Wright was correct to do so, because if anybody is lazy it’s Barry Ivey for not getting together with his colleagues and putting his bill forward in a strategic way.
Maybe the second black Supreme Court district is an offering which gets Black Caucus votes for a 5-1 congressional map and thus overrides Edwards’ prospective veto of that. Or maybe it’s part of a grand bargain from which the state House map adds majority-black districts at the expense of white Democrat districts, meaning that the GOP cements itself a supermajority through redistricting. Or maybe it’s even a promise to be redeemed later, when for example someone brings another bill banning boys from playing girls’ high school and college sports and the Black Caucus supports that bill and a veto override on it.
Or maybe the consideration to be redeemed later is the passage above Edwards’ veto of closed party primaries in Louisiana.
There are lots of things you could trade that second majority-black Supreme Court district for. Did Ivey bother to craft a deal he could sell to his colleagues along those lines? Nope.
Who’s the lazy one, again?
And this is what you get when the rest of the legislators roll their eyes and essentially say “shaddap, Barry.”
Ivey also reflected on the testimony of several students who called on the Legislature to increase minority representation through redistricting. Some said they would likely leave Louisiana unless they saw significant change, and Ivey called out colleagues who ignored their pleas.
“When this institution over the last hundred years has extinguished the hope of our children, shame on us,” he said.
In an interview with the Illuminator after the House adjourned, Ivey said some House members didn’t want to take a final vote on his bill because it could have been “injurious politically.”
“Sometimes, we choose easy instead of right,” he said, adding that he did not expect the motion to table his bill.
The derailing of Ivey’s bill provoked some angry back-and-forth in the House.
After Ivey’s speech, Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, said he believes in the political process and that “life does not give you what you want. It gives you what you deserve.” Members of the Legislative Black Caucus in the House reacted visibly to Harris’ comments.
And here was the Stupid Party’s payoff for Ivey’s having brought a gas can and a match to the House floor…
The members of the LLBC commend Representative Barry Ivey for doing exactly what we were elected to do: fight for the rights of the people and to create access for the historically disenfranchised. To table a bill for the sake of killing debate is reprehensible. To not have the courage to go on record with your vote is unworthy of the honor of serving as an elected official in the great State of Louisiana.
We were called into this special redistricting session to reapportion representation based on census information—census information that has confirmed growth in the number of Black Louisianians to a full one-third of the overall population. To fail to adequately reapportion our maps according to this information is a dereliction of our duties.
As it stands, the Louisiana Supreme Court only has one majority-minority district out of seven—an even more egregious malapportionment than our Congressional map which only has one majority-minority district out of six. The bill presented by Republican Representative Ivey would have presented a bipartisan solution to this malapportionment, and the failure of the Body to vote on it is an embarrassment to the institution.
The Black Caucus will continue to fight to ensure fair and just representation in Louisiana as we focus on the instruments remaining in this redistricting session. Representative Wilford Carter’s HB 18 and HB 20 both work to expand minority representation in the Louisiana Supreme Court and will be heard on the House Floor soon—where we expect and demand a robust debate and vote.
Here was Ivey’s rant, where he whines about being misunderstood while trashing the Legislature. Some of what he says is correct but when you’re one of the most ineffective members of the body you don’t really get to bitch about “politics.”
Especially when you’ve been there a decade and never bothered to learn how to work the process. And especially when all you’re really trying to do is get kudos from Democrats and people you’re pals with on social media rather than to actually pass anything.