More than 40 years ago, when I spent three summers at Jena Day Camp in New Orleans, the camp’s founder and head counselor, Jay Lapeyre, would joke around with anybody. But woe betide any kid Jay thought had deliberately broken the rules of any particular game. Several incidents are seared in my memory: In competition, Lapeyre was a stickler for bright, clear rules, evenly applied.
That’s still Lapeyre’s theme as he starts his yearlong term as board chairman of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, arguably the state’s most powerful lobby. By phone last week — the first time I had spoken to him in decades — I asked Lapeyre what his, and LABI’s, legislative priorities would be. He listed three but then veered into a more philosophical disquisition that triggered those recollections from camp.
“More generally,” he said, “LABI will continue to push for those areas that promote free enterprise — but with the understanding that the more clear the rules are, the more objective and the more uniformly the rules apply to everyone, the better off we’ll be. That’s what it takes to have a flourishing business, a climate which is needed to make the state attractive. We promote the business climate, not any particular business’ interest. When you promote entrepreneurial activity and private sector growth, that’s what creates the higher standard of living in the state.”
A few sentences later, unbidden, again: “LABI’s historical roots and mission are to promote free enterprise, the interest of business generally. We lose our way when/if we turn into someone promoting a special business interest … because that would be when we would lose the moral high ground.”
As it so happens, just a few days before the phone interview, I saw on cable TV the final installment of the “Atlas Shrugged” movie trilogy, and lo and behold, Lapeyre was quite prominently thanked in the credits. Indeed, he is active in the national Ayn Randian group that produced the films — but, he emphasized, not a group that hangs on every word of Rand as gospel but rather one that more generally applies her beliefs in free enterprise and “voluntary trade to mutual benefit.”
Some people mistake Rand’s work as a homage to big corporations, but a closer reading finds a strong aversion to corporate favoritism, or “crony capitalism,” especially when government picks winners and losers. To whatever extent Lapeyre influences LABI’s actions in the next year, then, one might expect to see this commitment to unobtrusive but clear, evenhanded, economic rule-making.
“The LABI board chair really only organizes the voice of the board itself, and the board works through our committees,” Lapeyre stressed. “There’s a lot going on; you have to pick your battles at any given time to see where you can make a political difference. To get traction, you need focus.”
Lapeyre listed three particular subjects for LABI’s focus this year:
“One is the dues collection, by the state, for labor union dues. That’s just not something taxpayers should be funding. Second is transparency within the court system. The whole question of how courts are independent is not in debate, but at some point, you have to have accountability to the public, which requires transparency as to how the courts get their money and how they spend it. Then, third, we are always concerned with promoting transportation infrastructure. Those are the three we’re pushing this session, among the normal agenda items.”
Alas, one LABI agenda item about which Lapeyre said the group is unlikely to change its support for the Common Core education standards.
“You need some objective test to give you data to evaluate performance,” he said.
Like other business lobbyists and their legislative allies, though, Lapeyre was less versed on why the particular standards of Common Core are sensible, empirically sound, or conducive to better education. If he likes clear, understandable standards, Common Core should be anathema.
But that’s a topic to which we can return later. For 40 years, I’ve watched from afar, with admiration, as Lapeyre advanced as an entrepreneur and active, generous civic leader. A state Legislature facing fiscal crisis might benefit from having as a business-lobby chairman a guy with a can-do attitude, who won’t accept any fudging or favoritism.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he blogs at blogs.theadvocate.com /quin-essential.