On Wednesday, as Louisiana’s Republican-majority legislature shambled down the road toward finishing a session in which it will increase the state’s budget by a billion dollars and yet perhaps require a special session next month in order to raise taxes to cover what Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards says is a $600 million deficit, an otherwise mundane exercise in lawmaking mediocrity erupted into a shining moment of national controversy.
That’s because during debate of an uncommonly dopey piece of legislation, SB 468 by Sen. Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles) which would outlaw adults younger than 21 from plying their trades as strippers, someone dared, briefly, to commit an act of limiting government.
Rep. Kenny Havard (R-Jackson) offered an amendment to the bill designed as a poison pill, an amendment patently absurd that, in its offering, would have illuminated the absurdity of the bill itself. This was an exercise in courage, mind you, because Johns’ bill — which is advertised somehow as an effort to defeat human trafficking (don’t ask me how, I can’t explain that one) — had sailed through a Senate committee, the Senate floor, and a House committee without a single vote in opposition at any stage of the process.
Havard’s absurd amendment was a humorous one; it would accept the 21-year old minimum age for a stripper but, perhaps in the name of consumer protection, set a maximum age for Louisiana exotic dancers at 28 and a maximum weight of 160 pounds.
Clearly, this would put male strippers as an industry in Louisiana out of work, as any male under 160 pounds would likely have trouble getting the blood pumping at Magic Mike Night. Havard probably didn’t consider that fact and his amendment was directed at those of the female variety. He said later that the amendment was a “joke,” and therefore it can’t be said that he was honestly taking up for the poor, lonesome schmucks populating the stageside seats at the state’s lesser adult entertainment establishments who might desire an improved selection of eye candy.
When Havard brought his amendment, it was amid a rather goofy atmosphere in the Louisiana House of Representatives; though there was little doubt the measure would pass with little alteration, many of the lawmakers who would vote to pass it knew the bill was idiotic — and some of them likely recognized it would be patently unconstitutional to tell a 20-year old stripper on Bourbon Street that she could ply her trade in May but not in June, and would have to wait until she turns 21 to ply it again. The bill itself was treated with snickering and hooting, and legislators even left a pile of singles on the speakers’ podium in tribute to the bill.
But this made some of the females in the House none too happy, and when Havard introduced his amendment he was immediately set upon by fellow Republican Nancy Landry — who asked him if he was trying to suggest “people over 28 or over a certain weight aren’t fit to be dancers or strippers?”
Havard then blew his opportunity to actually score points for rationality and against the nanny-state. He said “No,” and then pulled the amendment. He later said he has a problem with attempts at overregulation, and refused to apologize on account of the negative effect political correctness has on American discourse.
Except Havard then voted for the underlying bill, which passed the House on a 96-0 vote.
So much for consumer protection. So much for the freedom to earn a legal living without an overweening state in the way.
And so much for Havard as a crusader for limited government. Because as soon as his amendment disappeared into the dustbin, yet another Republican House member, Rep. Julie Stokes, took to the podium to castigate the entire body as male chauvinist pigs. “Looking out over this body, I’ve never been so repulsed to be a part of it,” she howled. “It has got to stop. That was utterly disrespectful and disgusting.”
Now there is a Change.org petition to recall Havard, a Facebook page demanding he resign, a coterie of upper-middle class housewives taking time off tennis and Xanax to denounce him on social media, and a cacophony of editorialists in the local dead tree media trashing him as a dunce and a harbinger of Donald Trump’s America.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which has of late reduced its print schedule to just three days a week as a measure of its commitment to providing the public a quality product, even ran a bizarre editorial from its diversity-hire leftist columnist Jarvis DeBerry decrying Havard’s amendment as “fat-shaming.”
Strippers! Fat-shaming! No, I am not making this up.
The tut-tutting from the feminist crowd and the ink-stained smart set was, of course, baked in the cake — and Havard had to know it was coming when he let fly his amendment. The mistake, as is almost always the case (and Trump, as the exception, has if nothing else shown there is another way), was that he didn’t stand and fight once he put himself in the melee.
He could, and should, have declared his amendment an absurdity at the outset and made a conditional offer to gladly pull it — as soon as someone in the legislature could make the case that the bill itself was any less absurd.
He would have won that argument. There is no nexus between sex trafficking and 20-year old strippers that justifies such a clear arbitrary restraint of trade in a legal profession. And a state legislature in supposedly deep-red Louisiana ought to be full of lawmakers who see that.
Somewhere in Louisiana there is an attractive 20-year-old stripper putting herself through college and earning a degree in political science, or microbiology, or nursing, or accounting, who’s about to become a plaintiff in an interesting constitutional lawsuit thanks to this stupid bill putting her out of a job. One might think she’s not quite as steamed at Havard for his supposed frat-boy sexism as she is at the skirtsuited do-gooders who’ve decided to treat her as a child and thus delay her education until she turns 21.
For the rest of us, this is a cautionary tale. Not about political correctness — about how tenuous the relationship actually is between an “R” next to a politician’s name and a commitment to avoid building the nanny state.
Derzsi Elekes Andor/Creative Commons