Gov. Bobby Jindal has wrapped himself in Big Blue, at event after event bragging about snagging an 800-job IBM service center for downtown Baton Rouge. Another IBM center is going up in Monroe. Now, he claims that the company is falling victim to “smears and misconceptions” for believing an anti-gay bill is exactly what it is.
The governor was referring to House Bill 707 by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, which purports to protect the religious faithful from government retribution over opposition to same-sex marriage, which does not exist in Louisiana. Yet supporters say the bill does not protect discrimination in any form.
Huh? Does it take IBM to calculate that this legislation does not add up?
“A bill that legally protects discrimination based on same-sex marriage status will create a hostile environment for our current and prospective employees, and is antithetical to our company’s values,” IBM Senior State Executive James M. Driesse wrote to Jindal and legislative leaders. “IBM will find it much harder to attract talent to Louisiana if this bill is passed and enacted into law.”
It’s not just an embarrassment for Jindal’s cheerleading for high-tech economic development to clash with his 14th century notions of social policy.
This is a significant moment for Baton Rouge and for Louisiana, as our bid to participate in the 21st century economy shows that there is a price for progress. That price, really an opportunity, is to open our communities to newcomers, the “nonstandard people” noted by economic development guru Richard Florida more than a decade ago.
Florida identified the three Ts of economic growth as technology, talent and tolerance. The latter helps to attract those who have something to contribute, whether they fit in with the preconceptions of us old-timers or not. Jindal is a persuasive salesman with corporate executives. His Ivy League education, Rhodes scholarship and command of the McKinsey and Co. corporate patter — all help dispel the notion that Louisiana is some backwater.
Then Jindal and other political leaders show by anti-gay rhetoric, or radical “personhood” bills — the latter rejected even by Mississippi — that the stereotype is in fact not put to rest.
If Jindal is not persuaded by Rich Florida’s analysis, maybe he’ll listen to an admirable conservative, the late Margaret Thatcher. “Nations depend for their health economically, culturally and psychologically, upon the achievements of a comparatively small number of talented and determined people,” she said more than 30 years ago.
She was talking about the punitive rates of taxation then in Great Britain, that as prime minister she curbed. That’s hardly an issue in Louisiana, one of the lowest-taxed states in the United States. But her remarks certainly apply to talent.
The comparatively small number of IBM employees and other technology workers is a significant component of a growth strategy for Baton Rouge and Louisiana. Those companies, operating in an international market, simply cannot afford to be seen tolerating laws that drive talented people to work elsewhere, where “nonstandard people” are appreciated for their contributions and not stigmatized for their personal lives.
The health of Baton Rouge and Louisiana, economically, culturally and psychologically, depend on more tolerance for talent, as much as technology.
Dick Schneider: They don’t make them like this anymore, but the former LABI lobbyist who died recently at 93 was a character at the State Capitol. The word “pugnacious” was invented for the former Ethyl engineer who carried business issues at a time of labor domination of the Legislature. The capitol is a drabber place without him.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.