For the good of Louisiana, House of Representatives conservative Republicans need to have an intervention with GOP Speaker Clay Schexnayder.
Last week, Schexnayder forced out Education Committee Chairman Ray Garofalo for backing a bill Republicans have passed out of legislative chambers in several states. The bill would prohibit unchallenged instruction or training that deliberately demeans students or trainees on the basis of their immutable characteristics or political views – often protecting racist behavior disguised as anti-racism.
He did this by failing to support Garofalo’s ability to function as committee chairman after complaints from the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, who manufactured outrage by blowing way out of proportion an offhand remark to allege Garofalo’s unfitness to lead. The LLBC has unusual leverage over Schexnayder because he won the speakership with only minority GOP representative support, with the plurality of that support coming from the LLBC, and a threat to withdraw that support means Schexnayder likely would lose his spot and full-time job with its salary.
A speaker interested in advancing his party’s largely-conservative agenda would have supported bills congruent to that agenda and won over the majority of his party who initially hadn’t supported him, negating any need for LLBC support (the group has as members all but a few House Democrats). This means maintaining loyalty to his leadership team like Garofalo who adhered to that agenda. But a speaker more interested in exercising raw power who sells out those he should share ideas with to satisfy those who oppose most of that agenda cannot govern effectively nor fulfill the wishes of the majority who put his party in power.
As a result, Schexnayder, as well as his chief lieutenant GOP state Rep. Tanner Magee, who enforces his leadership decisions, must go, but they show no signs of doing so willingly. Thus, House Republicans will have to make them see the light.
They have the means to do so. While Schexnayder hardly has lifted a finger to aid a number of Republican-backed bills that have passed easily in other states – whose leadership decisively countered opposition antics similar to those of the LLBC – he has put much effort behind legislation to streamline sales tax collection and to make marginal changes to the tax code, principally reducing individual income rates while eliminating deductibility of federal tax owed.
Making these items policy requires constitutional amendments, which need two-thirds majorities. In fact, the LLBC said it would withhold its support for these unless Schexnayder kowtowed on Garofalo’s dismissal as revenge for Garofalo’s temerity in publicizing its members opposed preventing neo-racism posing as anti-racism from harming people. With Republicans just shy of two-thirds membership in the House, this spurning would have made it difficult to pass the package.
Now it’s time to put the shoe on the other foot. At least three dozen Republicans should go to Schexnayder and declare they will not vote for his prize legislation unless he and Magee resign as leaders effective at the session’s end and do not contest for the offices for the rest of the term. There is little lost in policy terms by carrying out the threat; the sales tax measure easily can return next year and the tax swap, which at the very best is revenue neutral if not increases taxes, produces only the smallest change that can become part of something actually consequential in two years’ time (the next time a regular session can address tax issues).
Further, if Schexnayder refuses, the bloc should maintain the embargo into the next session and make a motion for his removal at the start of the anticipated special session for reapportionment purposes this fall. If he survives that and still won’t resign, nothing but the most conservative or trivial legislation will pass into law for the next two years – not a bad thing, actually. And he can’t retaliate through means like committee assignments or budgetary line items because there would be too many in the bloc.
Schexnayder allowed a divisive dumpster fire to start. Then he inflamed tensions. Poor leadership like that disserves the state, and if that failing makes him blind that to serve best the people he needs to step aside, it’s the responsibility of other legislators to usher him out the door.