Black state lawmakers are calling on Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder to remove the Republican chair of the House Education Committee from his leadership post after an acrimonious hearing over his proposal to ban the teaching of “divisive concepts,” including that the state or country are racist or sexist.
Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge and chair of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, said in a statement that the bill in question, by Chalmette Republican Rep. Ray Garofalo, wasn’t even supposed to get a hearing after “the urging of leadership and colleagues.” He said Garofalo’s bill itself includes “divisive, insensitive and racist elements.”
“An apology is not enough,” James said. “The defense of systemic racism throughout our country is inarguably an issue, and the language of this proposal alone is enough to offend those of us working toward change.”
Garofalo drew a wave of backlash by filing the bill and after the hearing. Some of the criticism centered around one exchange where Garofalo said there could be a classroom discussion of slavery: “You can talk about everything dealing with slavery. The good. The bad. The ugly.”
Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, a New Orleans Republican, replied that “there is no good to slavery, though.”
Garofalo replied: "You are right. I didn't mean to imply that and don't believe that."
The chairman of the House Education Committee shelved his own bill Tuesday that would ban colleges and public schools from teaching "divisive …
Part of the exchange went viral after the Louisiana Democratic Party tweeted the clip, with several celebrities including Patton Oswalt and Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy weighing in. Several national news outlets wrote about the exchange, and the Democratic Party's clip got thousands of retweets and likes.
Garofalo took to the podium on the House floor late Wednesday to say he was “taken out of context,” saying Schexnayder asked him to address his colleagues after the media attention. Garofalo didn’t apologize for the remarks, but slammed media accounts of the hearing and said his family is facing negative comments on their Facebook pages.
“I would hope that you know better than the reports that are being made about me in the press,” Garofalo said. “I would hope you respect me enough to know that I did not say what they’re accusing me of saying. I want to let you know i respect you guys very much and would never do what I’m being accused of doing.
“I don’t think anyone should be treated like this when something like this happens.”
James said Garofalo’s remarks are “equally as bad as what he said yesterday,” noting Garofalo didn’t apologize.
“Now he’s tripled down on the fact that this is his belief,” James said.
Schexnayder said he has had a conversation with Garofalo and will meet with the Black Caucus on Thursday. But he said he hasn’t made a decision yet on removing Garofalo from his post as chair.
The hearing on the bill sparked an hours-long debate Tuesday in which Garofalo’s colleagues took the rare step of moving to kill the bill even after the chairman asked to let him keep it alive in hopes he could work out a compromise. The vote on the motion by Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, to kill the bill failed on a 7-7 vote, meaning the measure remains alive for the session.
The legislation stems in part from a panel discussion at LSU earlier this year about “White Rage,” part of an academic study discussed in a series about racism. Garofalo sent a letter to university and higher education leaders about whether they support the panel discussion.
Garofalo said he would delay the bill until “another time” after Schexnayder expressed concerns about the bill, questioning whether the Legislature can tell colleges what they can teach.
The New Orleans City Council sent a letter to Garofalo slamming his remarks and calling the bill’s objective “racist and sexist.”
“To be clear: this amounts to a state-sanctioned muzzle on the freedom to teach the realities of white supremacy, racism, and sexism,” the council said in the letter.
“If you feel that there is “good” in slavery, you should resign immediately,” it continued.