With the state budget swimming in red ink, and no coherent plan afloat in the Legislature to resolve the crisis, Louisiana’s lawmakers nevertheless found time this week to weigh in on how local governments should handle Confederate monuments.
If this kind of legislative escapism at the State Capitol is the order of the day, constituents might as well get ready for a fiscal Appomattox.
In a lopsided vote that broke largely along party lines, House Republicans passed a bill banning the removal of public monuments to the Confederacy unless local voters approve the idea. Black caucus members walked out of the House chamber in protest.
All of this stems from ongoing controversy in New Orleans about Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan, approved by the City Council, to take down four Crescent City monuments linked to the Confederacy. Two have already been removed from public view.
We’ve criticized Landrieu’s handling of the issue and think putting the removal idea on a local ballot in New Orleans would have been a good thing. But the legislation debated in the House this week probably won't stop the monuments removal in New Orleans, and besides, the state has no business telling local governments how to sort out decisions about their public spaces.
For the Legislature’s self-proclaimed conservatives, who are supposed to champion limited government, to meddle in how local communities manage their monuments is the height of hypocrisy.
Also ironic was the fact that a bill ostensibly meant to honor history was authored by a lawmaker so ignorant of historical fact. State Rep. Thomas Carmody, the Shreveport Republican who sponsored the monuments legislation, floated the old canard that the Civil War wasn’t fought to protect slavery, a statement that amounts to the 19th century version of fake news.
As Carmody’s fanciful evocation of the Lost Cause made clear, political spin has a long tradition— as long-lived, in fact, as the Legislature’s culture of cowardice when it comes to addressing Louisiana’s real needs.
The state’s roads are deplorable, its prisons crowded, its public universities are crumbling, and too many of its public schools are failing. Meanwhile, as substantive solutions languish in the House and Senate, lawmakers find the time to debate the Confederacy.
In doing so, they’ve shown the world what residents of Louisiana already know. The people we’ve elected to chart the state’s future are, by and large, more comfortable living in the past. Little wonder that so many of our best and brightest, the standard-bearers of the 21st century, have moved away.