The bitter debate at the State Capitol over Confederate statuary is threatening another old monument: the Democratic Party in Louisiana.
For many blacks, the removal of these monuments brings peace of mind and puts to rest a conflict that represents enslavement for their great grandparents and disenfranchisement for their parents.
Many whites fight to keep the monuments because they believe their history should be preserved.
But idealistic themes gave way to ferocious rhetoric.
Debate over a bill that protects Confederate monuments has scratched open a raw nerve for many Louisiana lawmakers.
Supporters of House Bill 71, which throws up protections for Confederate monuments, told African-American opponents “to get over it” and chanted — after the measure passed the House Monday on a 65-31 vote — that they had “won the South back.” Opponents recounted rapes, casual brutality and the basic inhumanity of bondage.
Everyone knew how the Republicans would vote. The surprise was that almost a third of the Democrats bolted, either approving the pro-Confederate legislation or out of the chamber when the voting machine was open.
Invariant gossips, legislators and lobbyists opined last week that the anger exposed a cleavage between Democrats who did and those who didn’t. The intraparty bickering could cripple Gov. John Bel Edwards’ efforts to raise revenues, strip back tax breaks for businesses and other legislative initiatives, they predict. He needs every Democrat on the same page.
With 61 Republicans and three independents who kowtow the Republican line, House Majority Leader Lance Harris, of Alexandria, needs to flip only six Democrats to have the super majority.
Sponsored by a Shreveport Republican who believes secession is legal and that slavery wasn’t the root cause of the Civil War, HB71 would forbid local government from removing monuments, renaming buildings connected to any war, without a public vote.
For white Democrats, the Confederate monuments bill is poison.
Consequently, when the voting machine was opened, 13 Democrats either voted for the measure or were absent. Two urban legislators – Shreveport Rep. Barbara Norton, who is black, and Rep. Neil Abramson, who represents much of Uptown New Orleans – were among the nine MIA Democrats when the voting began. Ask them and they'll say they had reasonable business that took them away from the House Chamber. (For instance, Abramson says he had an excused absence to work on the capital outlay budget.) Eleven of the Democrats who didn't vote or voted for the measure represent conservative rural districts with more equal numbers of black and white voters than most House districts in Louisiana.
Even if all 13 had voted against the measure, the bill still would have passed. (It's a awaiting a committee hearing in the Senate now.) The 105 seat House has 41 Democrats, 24 of whom are African American.
Disciplined conformity has never been a hallmark of Democrats.
But House Democratic Caucus Leader Gene Reynolds, of Minden, was criticized by the chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, New Orleans Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, for being absent when the vote was taken. Rep. Malinda White, of Bogalusa, says one of her bills was killed because of her “Yea” vote.
The Legislature is partying like it's 1861, with pro-slavery apologias that made no sense then and less now, and a pointless new debate over C…
Reynolds, like most of the 13, refuses to talk about it, moving instead to platitudes about the need to “put this behind us and focus on the people’s real concerns, like the budget.”
Democratic Rep. Edmond Jordan, of Brusly and rarely seen without a smartphone in his hand, says the emotions were ginned up among a small minority who found each other on social media. Then, the click-addicted mainstream media turned up the volume with its coverage.
“In any population you have extremists, but by no means do I believe that you are hearing the voices of the vast majority of the people of Louisiana,” Jordan said.
Bernie Pinsonat, who makes his money by polling voters for political candidates, dismisses all the chatter about a shattered Democratic Party in 2017. The votes were about the 2019 elections, he said.
“White Democrats are being eliminated one by one. And voting for this would cause them more problems at home than they have already with all the money being spent by all these Republican special interest groups to kick them out of office.” Pinsonat said, estimating that Democrats would have to spend $15,000 to $20,000 to defend the inevitable attack ads that will stem from this one vote.
That reality goes a long way to explain why Edwards, the only Democrat elected statewide, has stepped so gingerly around this issue.
Historically, governors have exerted their influence to smother problematic legislation in committee, thereby saving lawmakers from having to make such votes. Party leaders warned Edwards of the potential pitfalls early in the session, but the governor did nothing.
When asked about this, Edwards refused to comment beyond his remarks during Tuesday’s news conference.
At that time, Edwards allowed that the Confederacy certainly is an important part of Louisiana’s history, and he loves history. “I took every history elective I could when I went to West Point.” But, “while it is certainly part of our history can we say it’s the best part?”