After three years of trying to undo Common Core, state Rep. Brett Geymann, of Lake Charles, thinks his side finally has hit something like paydirt.
Geymann is the polite but persistent leader of the anti-Common Core forces in the Legislature.
It all started when his sister, Leslie Truax, a high school history teacher in Lake Charles, called him one day in 2012 to share her concerns about the new academic standards that were about to set off a national debate.
“I think we talked for two hours about it,” Truax said. “That just got the ball rolling.”
“That was my first exposure to it,” he said.
That telephone call set off months of battles that all but redefined his role in the Legislature.
He has traveled to Oklahoma City to see how lawmakers there scuttled the standards.
He helped organize town-hall meetings and watched as the Lake Charles area became a hotbed of students who boycotted the first round of Common Core exams in March.
And when critics of the standards launched one last push for a compromise weeks ago, Geymann played a key role among the opponents in days of behind-the-scenes negotiations.
“Absolutely, he was one of the two major drivers,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, a longtime backer of the new benchmarks in reading, writing and math.
Key lawmakers announced earlier this month that they had reached agreement on three bills that would revamp how the standards are reviewed without shelving five years of work.
Geymann’s proposal is the heart of the plan.
That measure — House Bill 373 — would change the way the state reviews and updates the academic guidelines, including holding public hearings in all six of Louisiana’s congressional districts.
It is set for debate in the House on Wednesday.
Geymann said the bills “have laid the groundwork for an open process, for everybody to be involved and for us to be able to vet these issues that are causing all the controversy.”
State Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, a longtime ally of Geymann in the push to scrap Common Core, said Geymann’s role in the outcome is not surprising.
“He is polite, he is courteous but he is persistent,” Henry said.
“He is not going to be ugly about it,” Henry added. “But he is going to get his point across, and if you don’t agree with him, it is nothing personal, but he is not going to quit.”
State Rep. Jim Morris, R-Oil City, who has been legislative roommates with Geymann for the past eight or nine years, agreed.
“He is tenacious, there is no doubt about it,” Morris said,
Morris said Geymann and his sister convinced him to oppose the standards.
Truax is so bothered by Common Core that she moved her 9-year-old daughter to a private school, where she is thriving.
“It is the worst thing I have ever seen, and I have taught for 18 years,” she said of Common Core.
Geymann, 53, is in his final year in the state House because of term limits.
First elected in 2003, he succeeded former Rep. Vic Stelly, who gave his name to a constitutional amendment that repealed the state sales tax on groceries and utilities and boosted state income taxes for some.
Geymann has three jobs outside of his House duties.
He has worked at his father’s pipeline supply firm since high school. He and his wife have a sign and screen printing firm. And he is a licensed residential contractor.
Common Core is not Geymann’s first brush with controversial topics.
He was one of the leaders of the “fiscal hawks” in the House — lawmakers bothered by the state’s repeated use of one-time dollars to balance Louisiana’s annual operating budgets.
“We talked about it for years before anybody really paid attention,” Geymann said, in an echo of how the Common Core debate unfolded.
State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, is a longtime ally of Geymann in the fight to shelve the new educational standards.
“He is very, very passionate and persistent in the things he believes in,” Pope said.
Geymann has been mentioned as a possible contender this year for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education seat held by Holly Boffy, of Youngsville.
Boffy is a former state teacher of the year who backs the standards.
But the lawmaker said he has more interest in Congress if a series of ifs develop — if U.S. Sen. David Vitter is elected governor and if 7th District U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany makes a bid to succeed Vitter.
“I think it is something I would definitely look at,” Geymann said.