Last year, Sen. Beth Mizell authored a now-famous bill which would have prevented males from taking part in women’s organized sports – as in, at the scholastic level – in Louisiana. The bill passed both houses of the Louisiana legislature but was vetoed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. An attempt was made to override the veto, and that was successful in the Senate, but not in the House.
In the House, the bill fell two votes short. It needed 70 votes for an override of the veto; it got 68.
Edwards justified his veto by calling the bill a solution without a problem. But that was before the NCAA women’s swimming championships earlier this year, when a man named William Thomas, posing as a woman named Lia, won two national championships beating the hell out of a pool full of female swimmers. That spectacle caused a national outrage at the NCAA for failing to put a stop to what was a fairly obvious bit of cheating by the University of Pennsylvania’s swim team, and it proved out the case for why bills like Mizell’s are needed.
The bill is moving through the Louisiana legislature again. The current version, which is virtually identical to last year’s bill, is SB 44. It passed in the Senate with 29 votes last Tuesday – including three Democrats. Katrina Jackson, Greg Tarver and Gary Smith all voted for it. Two Republican Senators who would have voted for the bill, Heather Cloud and Patrick McMath, missed the vote. Karen Carter Peterson is, of course, gone, and hasn’t been replaced yet, so there are only 38 Senators at present.
The bill is sitting in the House Education Committee, which meets tomorrow. SB 44 isn’t on the calendar yet, which means it will likely be taken up at House Education’s first meeting in May.
It’s going to pass in House Education, and it’s going to pass on the House floor. And then it’ll go to Edwards’ desk again.
So the real question is twofold. First, will Edwards veto the bill again? And second, if he does, can House Speaker Clay Schexnayder drum up an extra couple of votes for an override?
On the first question, here’s what Edwards said on his monthly radio show last week…
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday that he remains opposed to a bill that would keep transgender athletes in Louisiana from competing on college and K-12 women’s and girls’ sport teams, but he stopped short of saying he would veto a bill that passed the Senate hours earlier.
The Democratic governor vetoed similar legislation last year. The Senate on Tuesday night approved an override by the needed two-thirds majority, but the override effort fell two votes short in the House. Both chambers are dominated by Republicans.
On his monthly radio show Wednesday, Edwards echoed criticisms he made last year, saying the bill addresses something that hasn’t occurred in the state. “Because it is unnecessary, I think that there is a certain mean-spirited nature to it,” Edwards said.
The measure approved Tuesday night in Baton Rouge would apply to K-12 schools, as well as colleges and universities, if they receive state funding. “Athletic teams or sporting events designated for females, girls, or women shall not be open to students who are not biologically female,” the bill states.
There has been speculation that Edwards would neither sign nor veto the bill, letting it become law without his imprimatur. His statement made it sound a lot like that’s what might happen.
If he vetoes the bill twice, and if the second veto comes after the Lia Thomas debacle, not to mention similar bills passed in Florida, Texas, Arkansas, South Dakota, Utah and other places without any major corporate consequences, it would send a signal that John Bel Edwards was a fraud from the very beginning when he called himself a “conservative” Democrat.
Not that this is a surprise to anyone who paid attention. Edwards had the most left-wing voting record in the Louisiana legislature before being elected governor in 2015. He managed to shine the people of Louisiana on enough to win election in a race where the voters were anxious to punish David Vitter for his old sexual peccadilloes, and then he managed re-election amid a woefully poor campaign run by Eddie Rispone in 2019. Edwards has been trying to attract the attention of the national Democrats ever since that 2019 victory, because he has nowhere to go at this point. Louisiana’s electorate votes along ideological lines in federal elections, which means Edwards can’t win a Senate race and his Louisiana political future is void.
So getting a job in the Biden administration would be his next step.
And he needs leftist ideological bona fides if he’s going to get that.
So perhaps a veto would be a good idea for him. If he could somehow sustain that veto, it would be a huge victory for national Democrats in Louisiana. The problem is that it would cause some serious problems for a number of Democrats in Louisiana’s legislature, and particularly in the House, if they backed his veto in an override session.
Last year at least three of them ran into a lot of trouble voting to sustain the veto. Chad Brown, Jeremy Lacombe and Travis Johnson all represent areas of the state which are fairly conservative, and Schexnayder had the word of all three that they’d vote to override. All three changed their minds after Edwards twisted their arms.
Lacombe wants to run for the Senate next year. Having a vote for putting a Lia Thomas in the pool with female swimmers in a high school or college meet in Louisiana, or on a soccer, volleyball, or softball team, would do major damage to his chances of winning. Johnson wasn’t a huge winner of his first-term election campaign in 2019; he’ll catch a strong challenger next year who could beat him on this issue alone.
Would Edwards march them off a cliff in next year’s elections in an effort to get himself a gig in the Biden administration?
Probably. But only if he really thought he’d get somewhere. The problem is that the Supreme Court is about to substantially alter its doctrine on abortion, and when it does the national Democrat Party is going to be on the warpath against everyone who’s pro-life, and that includes Edwards. Which would make it less likely he could move up to Washington.
So if he picks this fight, he either wins a Pyrrhic victory by showing voters Democrats can’t be trusted on cultural issues and loses lots of friends for whatever political future he might want to craft for himself, or he has House Democrats abandon him the way Smith, who wants to run for governor, Jackson and Tarver did in the Senate, and he takes a significant loss which signals he’s a lame duck governor.
That would indicate he’s going to sit this one out. And if he does, it might just be that the Legislature begins to realize the door is open to pass whatever they want without worrying about a newly-toothless John Bel Edwards.