In this space there has been a serial focus on the notion that, in the words of the first column in the series, we are governed by people who suck.
Mostly, this is a phenomenon easily verifiable by examining the performance of Democrats. It’s difficult to see a Lori Lightfoot or an Andrew Cuomo and not recognize the magnitude of the suck of which that party is capable.
Voting Republican, or at least voting anti-Democrat, is the single most prophylactic political endeavor an American can engage in as a means of defending against the suck. But sadly, it isn’t foolproof.
For example, voters in Alabama made the pervy philanderer John Merrill their Secretary of State. Merrill gave the folks a good line of homespun BS about conservatism and the value of the nuclear family while he was engaging in salacious conduct with mistresses of unimpressive class and even more unimpressive judgement, and it wasn’t long before Merrill’s political career imploded under the weight of those actions.
There are the Mitt Romneys, Liz Cheneys, and Bill Cassidys of the world, who continuously manifest themselves as reminders that yes, Republicans can suck, too.
Perhaps the difference is that when Democrats suck it’s the product of intention, and when Republicans suck it’s due to the fact that they, well, just plain suck.
But then there’s the case of Clay Schexnayder, who rose early last year to the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives in the state Legislature of Louisiana and has since taken Republican suck to new depths and breadths. So much so that it’s possible Schexnayder may be in the process of sucking himself right out of the Speaker’s chair.
A few things ought to be explained about how legislative politics works in Louisiana, because the state is categorically unique in how things are set up.
Everywhere else, there’s a majority legislative party, and that majority party will caucus to vote on its leadership — and whoever gets a majority vote from the majority party will have those legislators galvanize around them to lead the entire body.
Because the tradition in Louisiana is, essentially, for the governor to pick the legislative leadership, something that isn’t easy to do when the current governor, John Bel Edwards, is a Democrat and the current legislature is heavily Republican (the GOP has 68 of 105 seats in the House and 27 of 39 seats in the Senate), that custom has never really taken hold in Louisiana.
So when the current legislative term began following the 2019 statewide elections, the Louisiana House Republican delegation had a meeting and, it was thought, had agreed on a ground rule that whomever the majority of the delegation chose would get the votes of the GOP representatives.
Like is done practically everywhere else.
In a 105-member House, a Louisiana Speaker would need 53 votes. Sherman Mack, a country lawyer from the Baton Rouge suburb of Denham Springs, topped out somewhere in the high 40s. Schexnayder, a curious choice for legislative leadership owing to the fact that he never attended college and might not actually have finished high school, not to mention he’s had no legitimate means of income outside of his puny legislative salary since the tire store he owned flooded in 2016, had 20 or so.
Schexnayder and his supporters balked at the commitment to honor the will of the delegation’s majority. That made the two independents and 35 Democrats in the House the swing votes in the Speaker’s election. Schexnayder cut a deal with Edwards to deliver those votes, and particularly the 28 votes of the Legislative Black Caucus, in favor of his speakership.
He became a Republican Speaker of a Republican House elected by Democrat votes.
Kids, don’t try this at home.
The dynamics of such circumstances are such that disaster was inevitable, and that’s precisely what Louisiana has reaped with Schexnayder’s speakership. It’s been a bizarre chain of clear missteps, political bloopers, and botched policy, and it recently got so bad that the real possibility the Republicans in the Louisiana House will cobble together 53 votes either for Mack or another candidate and mount a coup against Schexnayder by the end of this year’s fizzling legislative session.
What’s bringing this to a head? Critical race theory (CRT), or more to the point the attempt by Schexnayder’s Education Committee chairman Ray Garofalo, a Republican from the New Orleans suburb of Meraux, to put a stop to its use in Louisiana’s public schools. Garofalo brought a bill, HB 564, which would limit CRT’s use in the schools as a “divisive” theory; it’s actually a bit weaker than bills that have passed overwhelmingly in states from Idaho to Iowa to Tennessee to Florida. Republican legislatures are carrying the ball against radical CRT indoctrination in the schools, something that must be done before the Biden administration begins showering local school systems with grant money earmarked for teaching kids things like that math is racist or that they should “be less white.”
But Garofalo ran into a buzzsaw in a hearing of his own committee three weeks ago. The Legislative Black Caucus ran to Schexnayder and demanded he stop Garofalo from bringing the bill, and then he was met with implied accusations of racism for his trouble by Black Caucus members and particularly New Orleans Democrat Gary Carter, whose uncle Troy was just elected to Congress. Carter later loudly proclaimed he was boycotting the committee until Garofalo no longer chaired it, prompting some to wonder why Schexnayder didn’t just replace Carter with someone else.
Then Garofalo was set upon by a woke RINO Republican member and Schexnayder ally, Stephanie Hilferty of New Orleans. At one point when Garofalo stated his preference for teaching the “good, bad, and ugly” about historical facts and mentioned slavery as a phenomenon subject to that analysis, Hilferty blurted out, breathlessly, that there was “nothing good about slavery.”
And a typical idiotic controversy was born.
The Black Caucus had threatened to pull their support from Schexnayder if Garofalo’s bill reached the House floor, and then they upped their demands to include Garofalo’s ouster as Education Committee chairman.
And Schexnayder, who has done very little to ingratiate himself with his own party’s delegation and is thus vulnerable to threats of losing his speakership to their fickle whims, has played Step-‘n-Fetchit to the Black Caucus. He spent the past three weeks holding Garofalo’s committee chairmanship in limbo, demanding he ensconce himself in an anteroom while the Education Committee met and only come out to vote on bills, and further requiring Garofalo drop his bill, which has yet to receive a vote in the committee.
And then Monday Schexnayder fired Garofalo after a final demand that HB 564 go away was rejected.
This after Schexnayder, according to Garofalo, had supported the bill and encouraged him to bring it. Before the Black Caucus’s leverage play there was no reason to believe it wouldn’t have passed just like the bills in Oklahoma, Idaho, Tennessee, and Florida passed.
Bear in mind, this is the same Clay Schexnayder who had ruined another Garofalo bill, a tort reform measure, in last year’s legislative session, only to bring his own weaker bill, which was eventually passed. Also last year Schexnayder stood in the way of a legislative petition that would have dissolved Edwards’ draconian COVID-19 lockdowns, which have devastated Louisiana’s hospitality and tourism industries and given the state the worst unemployment picture in the South. That was a fiasco of the first magnitude; Schexnayder claimed the law giving force to the petition was unconstitutional, a claim the Louisiana Supreme Court later found invalid after Edwards used that same argument, and then once again attempted to bring a weaker measure, which was ignored in the state Senate. After that Schexnayder brought his own petition, which Edwards ignored; that issue remains bottled up in court and will never be ruled on given most of its particulars are now moot.
Conservative activists around the state are incensed, and phone lines are lit up at the Capitol — so much so that Schexnayder appears to be crawfishing on Garofalo’s ouster. His Speaker pro tem Tanner Magee, a hyper-ambitious RINO with designs on Schexnayder’s job with the soonest potential time frame in mind, told the AP Garofalo was a “distraction” and an “obstacle” and accused him of walking out of a meeting with Schexnayder so he could play the “martyr.”
But Schexnayder began attempting to spread the word that Garofalo had actually resigned from the committee chairmanship, and when Garofalo countered that he then floated a trial balloon to the effect that no decision had actually been made on Garofalo’s status.
This all took place in the context of a floor vote on elements of a highly mediocre “revenue-neutral” tax reform package the passage of which Schexnayder has staked his political capital. He needs a two-thirds vote to pass tax bills through the House, which means he needs the votes of the Black Caucus. They know it, so they’re making escalating demands on Schexnayder to include Garofalo’s ouster.
The most astute of our readers, having plowed through this, will likely scratch their heads and say, “What’s wrong with this guy? All he has to do is make his peace with his own delegation and he becomes bulletproof against the Black Caucus threats. It’s so simple.”
That’s correct. And to provide even more clarity for how correct it is, six of the 16 committee chairmanships in the Louisiana House are held by Black Caucus members. Its chairman, a Democrat from Baton Rouge named Ted James, is the chair of the Criminal Justice Committee.
The obvious play for Schexnayder would have been to say, “Garofalo is my Education chair, and he stays. His bill goes to the House floor, and it passes. For the sin of attacking one of my committee chairs, I’m sacking you, Rep. James, and giving your committee to one of my Republican detractors to solidify their support. And I expect ‘yes’ votes on my tax package from each of the other five committee chairmen who are Black Caucus members. If they aren’t willing to do that, I’ll be sacking them and replacing them with newfound GOP allies, too.”
If the conservatives had a candidate who could get 53 votes for Speaker, they would have already moved on Schexnayder. They’ve said over and over again they would have his back if he would just commit to being worthy of it. Rolling the Black Caucus over would have completely solidified their support and made any talk of a new Speaker irrelevant.
But that’s what you’d have seen from a Clay Schexnayder who did not suck. It seems no such Clay Schexnayder exists.