His now-former colleagues in the Louisiana Senate were visibly relieved after Troy Brown’s abrupt resignation Thursday.
Embattled state Sen. Troy Brown announced his resignation Thursday saving the state Senate what was expected to be a bruising battle next week…
On Monday, they were set to expel Brown using a 35-year-old procedure that put them in position of arguing, essentially, that the Senate is a club with the constitutional right to decide who could remain members.
Brown had pleaded no contest in two separate incidents involving violence to women, which many of his colleagues felt worthy of expulsion.
Brown refused several negotiated settlement offers that would have resulted in suspension. Instead, he wanted to fight a procedure that he said unconstitutionally killed political careers without allowing a defense.
“I will never nullify my negative actions, but this issue needs to be addressed,” Brown said after deciding to quit.
While it clearly doesn't appear to support domestic violence, the Louisiana Legislature isn’t exactly a paragon of enlightenment on women’s issues.
During the past 12 months, there was an attempt to mockingly legislate weight and age minimums for strippers, a cake decorated as a bikini-clad midriff was made available for snacking during a committee hearing, and the annual effort to ensure women are paid equally was rejected again.
Plus, the need for an expulsion hearing came about because Louisiana’s law on domestic abuse differs from much of the rest of the country.
Brown had pleaded no contest to hitting his girlfriend in New Orleans, then a few months later in a separate incident, to biting his wife – hence, two distinct first-offense misdemeanors. Most states would have charged Brown with a felony the second time around, and that would have ended his career in the state Senate.
The day after state Sen. Troy Brown pleaded no contest to domestic abuse battery, much of the talk among legislators was about how to react.
Because the girlfriend was not a member of Brown’s family, Louisiana law sees two separate offenses. Brown argued a misdemeanor is a misdemeanor. If legislators want to change the law, then they should.
Against Brown’s intransigence, his irony-impaired colleagues had no choice but to rely on an expulsion procedure improvised in 1981 to achieve one goal: get rid of Gaston Gerald.
A former elementary school principal from Greensburg, state Sen. Gerald was convicted in 1979 of trying to facilitate a bribe involving the construction of Baton Rouge’s governmental buildings. The key evidence was a conversation recorded in the lobby outside the Senate chamber. He and a cohort colluded to “make sure I get my story straight” before talking to authorities.
Gerald was indicted, convicted, then was reelected with 60 percent of the vote, and officially qualified by his Senate colleagues for a third term. Only then was he shipped off to the federal prison in Fort Worth, thereby missing the opening of the 1981 legislative session.
Troy Brown won a second term — before the domestic violence arrests — with 72 percent of the vote. None of his 120,000 River Parishes constituents has filed a recall petition.
Brown had spent a few days in jail, but was at the State Capitol when the special session began Feb. 13, and he showed no willingness to resign.
Back when the 1981 session opened, Gerald was in prison, willing to resign after his appeals were exhausted. In quick succession, however, senators discovered that Gerald, who chaired the Senate Labor committee, had put a prison friend on the Senate payroll; that his appeal was denied; and that his offer to resign was withdrawn.
A procedure to expel Gerald was needed quick.
New Orleans Democratic state Sen. Michael O’Keefe, then the Senate president, said at the time that federal courts in other states had held that regardless of constitutional power, legislators had to be careful and not oust colleagues for frivolous reasons. The rules required an orderly procedure, though not quite as rigid as a court hearing.
Meanwhile, then-Democratic Sen. Bill Jefferson, of New Orleans, shepherded a bill into law that forbid paying legislators after they have been convicted of a felony. (Later in life, both O’Keefe and Jefferson were convicted on corruption charges and sent to federal prison.)
Gerald was expelled on a vote of 33-3.
After Brown’s resignation ended the possibility of a repeat proceeding, Senate President John A. Alario said that maybe the old rules needed some sort of review – always a good idea – but not right now. “Hopefully, we won’t need them anytime soon. I got my plate full with the budget,” he said.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, the Baton Rouge Republican who shepherded the Brown expulsion effort, said: “The rules are much more designed for an absentee senator than for the senator who was going to be present.”
Nevertheless, the 35-year-old ad hoc process still was pretty straightforward and protected Brown’s rights, Claitor said. “It’s not complicated. You don’t need Justice Scalia to coach you through it.”