Louisiana legislators have some cojones after all. They can too disregard the demands of furious constituents and vote their convictions.

Sure, the prospect, real or imagined, of a backlash can often make them wimps. But last week they stood shoulder to shoulder and passed a bill over howls of protest. If they could only be this brave when it matters, whoever coined the phrase “fiscal cliff” could have spared us.

This was not a bill of any consequence to the vast majority, who may not find it easy to understand why everyone affected by it seemed incandescent with rage. Legislators, indeed, must have been surprised by the reaction, but they did not flinch. They were armed with the self-regard that makes politicians tick. They also invoked the rule that allows individual senators to visit anonymous retribution on appointed officials who don't toe the line.

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That was a lot of commotion over a bill that did no more than rename Louisiana's only elite, residential public high school after former legislator Jimmy Long, who was killed in a car crash last summer. Long, as the local state Rep., played a leading role in setting up the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches in 1981. It has an enrollment of around 360 brainy kids recruited statewide. Now it is the Jimmy D. Long School etc.

Although nobody regarded this as the most significant legislation of the session, it was given pride of place as Senate Bill 1 when filed by Sens. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, and Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, younger brother of Jimmy. The move came as a surprise to alumni who thought Jimmy Long would be adequately honored when the school's board of directors allowed last year that a dormitory would be named for him.

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Opponents of the bill descended on Baton Rouge for a House committee hearing in such numbers that an overflow room had to be opened up. The gist of the objections was that the prestige of the state's top high school would be diminished if it were associated with a local politician. Similar schools elsewhere just bear the names of the states they are in. This would be like calling Louisiana's the Podunk School.

That seemed somewhat overwrought, given that adding Jimmy Long's name would make no difference to how the school operates, but evidently, it is so beloved by those associated with it that they regarded the bill as almost sacrilegious.

Legislators are naturally disinclined to stint when it comes to memorializing one of their own, however. Thompson, appearing at the House committee hearing, suggested opponents of the bill were a bunch of ingrates. “They offered him a dormitory. He gave them a school,” he said.

No, he didn't. Taxpayers gave them the school. Long may have worked the Legislature to clear the way for the school's establishment, but he did not endow it. Maybe he did his job exceptionally well, but it is only for doing that job that he is thought worthy of having his name put up on campus. The bill passed with ease.

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Two senators earlier put a hold on the reappointment of Lovan Thomas to the school's board of directors after he came out against the name change. Those senators were not required to identify themselves, so we can only guess who they were. But it was Gerald Long who, once the bill had passed the legislature, informed Thomas that the hold had been lifted.

Such strong-arm tactics would no doubt have met with the approval of the Longs' distant cousin, Huey.

Thomas quit the board in disgust.

To create so much ill will over a bill of no consequence is quite an achievement, and it is a double-edged tribute to foist Jimmy Long's name on an unwilling school. Legislators did agree to retain the existing name on diplomas and transcripts, but the mood among alumni evidently remains resentful.

They'll get over it. Surely, they didn't think our legislators would cave in.

Email James Gill at jgill@theadvocate.com.

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