Joseph Buie and the Black Caucus

Rep. Joseph Buie, D-New Orleans and chairman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, said Tuesday morning that House business will go on as usual after the group’s membership walked out of the chamber Monday evening. They were protesting the House’s majority approving legislation that would protect Confederate monuments.

Advocate Photo by Mark Ballard

Last week the Louisiana Legislature’s House of Representatives witnessed the beginnings of Washington-style divisive behavior in its membership. Shame on members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus for instigating it.

Over the past 18 months, state Democrats from the governor on down generally have complained, if inauthentically, about “divisiveness” in governing. They mistakenly define “divisive” as disagreeing with their tax-and-spend agenda and ludicrously suggested that this means opponents work for special interests rather than for the state as a whole.

But that kind of get-along-go-along philosophy at the Capitol hasn't served Louisiana well. It's produced government that spends beyond its means and too often on the wrong things: moviemaking; parishes, ports, and underused bridges instead of on roads; more expensive nursing home care for people with disabilities rather than on home- and community-based solutions; and on a negative income tax that pays people to work less productively, among other things.

But the opposition to this status quo, mainly Republican, has largely rested on principled arguments and a respect for the democratic process, not a drive to create controversy for its own sake.  

There was political theater aplenty, though, when, in a move similar to some publicity stunts undertaken by their national counterparts, Black Caucus members walked out after the House passed HB 71 by GOP state Rep. Thomas Carmody. It mimicked moves in Congress since the beginning of 2016, when various Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives brought their chamber’s business to a halt through a sit-in over gun control, left the room protesting women’s issues, and boycotted Republican President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.

Carmody’s bill would prevent local governments from altering, removing, relocating, or destroying a memorial located on public property that commemorates specified wars, including the Civil War. The same would apply to objects dedicated in memory of or named for any historical military figure, historical military event, military organization, or military unit. However, it would allow local governments to call elections that, through a majority vote, could override the prohibition.

Importantly, the bill doesn't speak to the suitability of Confederacy-related monuments, such as those which New Orleans officials recently and controversially removed. The legislation merely asserted the state’s constitutional authority to decide which powers local governments could exercise and how.

Yet during the bill’s debate, a stream of Caucus members, all Democrats, both through questions and in statements, bitterly attacked it as supporting racism. Dispensing with rational argumentation that stayed on subject, they emoted that letting people directly decide whether to change the status, if not banish, an object made them feel hurt. Ironically, considering that they injected controversy by steering the conversation disingenuously away from the bill’s actual meaning, the protesting lawmakers also alleged it sowed division.

When the measure passed with all Caucus members present against it, Caucus members filed out. They subsequently missed votes on a number of measures. The next day, Caucus Chairman state Rep. Joseph Bouie inaccurately and offensively said the tally showed “deep-rooted belief in white supremacy.”

That unwarranted insult only compounds the irresponsibility Caucus members displayed over the matter. Deliberately and needlessly inflaming passions, they hijacked something neutral to engage in grievance politics and score political points. Meanwhile, by walking out of the chamber, they left constituents voiceless during the latter part of the legislative day.

They acted destructively, not constructively, sacrificing honest debate to induce conflict. Hopefully the bill’s next stop in the Senate will feature authentic deliberation instead of political posturing.

Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics, www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation in it at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email jeffsadowtheadvocate@yahoo.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.