If you find yourself in a situation where you have to defend what you think you hold dear by pointing a gun, unless you’re willing to use it not only do you fail to protect but you also invite more threatening behavior. It’s a lesson many Republican Louisiana statewide elected officials — including two running for governor next year — and legislative leaders could learn, citizens discovered to their dismay at the latest State Bond Commission meeting.
Last week, the panel again took up the matter of issuing a $39 million line of credit to the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board to finance flood protection measures. The previous two months majorities — at first all or representatives of Republicans Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Treas. John Schroder, Sec. of State Kyle Ardoin, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, and Sen. Pres. Page Cortez, plus appointees of Schexnayder and Cortez, voted not to advance the item because of a controversial official decision made by New Orleans.
This took the form of a City Council resolution explaining a decision essentially only when committed in the presence of law enforcement to enforce the state’s ban on almost all abortions. It pledged not to devote any city resources to investigating reports of abortion occurring except when incident to another alleged offense. The GOP SBC attendees at first unanimously held it up, pending further explanation by the city that it would investigate all reported instances.
Last month, no explanation was forthcoming, but Cortez and his Senate appointees, which included a Democrat this time, defected to leave just a narrow margin favoring delay. Then this time, despite the city’s attorney showing up and reading to the panel the disingenuous resolution that showed no willingness to investigate alleged breaches of the law, all except Landry’s designee cravenly gave in, presenting a laundry list of half-baked, ill-considered rationales for their choice.
Schexnayder queried about whether the abortion law had been broken. This missed this point entirely; the issue at hand was a local government was thumbing its nose at the rule of law by declaring it would apply state law selectively if not put in a position forcing it to do so. It doesn’t matter the degree of lawlessness; what matters is a fundamental rejection of the rule of law that threatens the very basis of representative democracy.
Nungesser (finally showing up personally to one of these) hinted his representatives had mistakenly voted it down and that rejecting it smacked of politicization and held up flood protection. But New Orleans officials are the culprits whose dereliction of duty invited in the political controversy, where to uphold the rule of law the state must use means such as this to remove this threat to democracy, and it is their actions that block flood protection that to initiate merely required they remove any pledge that they would prohibit use city resources to investigate in a timely fashion all accusations of abortion having occurred.
Schroder questioned why this one issue related to New Orleans brought protest, as opposed to other SBC requests or actions that Landry’s office could take. Yet using one tool at the exclusion of others doesn’t change the rectitude of using that, and Landry’s office has pursued all of the other means at its disposal. Despite that, Schroder maintained the SBC wasn’t the venue for dealing with this issue.
Cortez emphasized the SBC should take a ministerial role and that policy shouldn’t intrude into its decision. However, that misunderstands fundamentally the nature of politics, which is who gets what, when, and how. If a government body has the power to makes these kinds of decisions, as the SBC does, then by their very nature its outputs are policy — as it explicitly has demonstrated several times in the past by excluding vendors who practice viewpoint discrimination from bidding for its business, to the approval of Schroder and Nungesser.
And in all of this excuse-making, with the possible exception of Nungesser who basically said he wasn’t paying attention to his job, none of these officials seemed to comprehend the inconsistency, if not outright hypocrisy, of their positions: if all the reasons they gave to move forward with the item were true, then why did all of them (or their stand-ins) vote against that two months ago, and many of them did so again last month? Two months ago, they presented themselves as principled in their votes against, but now appear to abandon that for some kind of political gain — no doubt in the cases of Nungesser and Schroder related to electoral politics as they expect Landry, who they trail in polling, to oppose their quests for the state’s top job.
Imagine if civil rights pioneers jailed for their objections to illegal, unconstitutional, and immoral actions by a local government stayed imprisoned one night, then capitulated because it was inconvenient to their aspirations and they thought the symbolism more important than the outcome.
Ridding racism from governance would have taken far longer, and in the present instance the lack of fortitude by Nungesser, Schroder, Ardoin, and Schexnayder and Cortez with their designees shows how willingly they abandon principle for politics, unlike Landry seemingly unconcerned with defending a fundamental principle of American representative democracy whose violators now will be all the more encouraged to engage in lawless rule by fiat.
Jeff Sadow can be reached at jeffsadowcolumn-HannaPub@yahoo.com.