The first major election I participated in after moving to Louisiana was in 2014. By the time of the election, I had worked with then-U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu for two years on Katrina-related loan forgiveness for Dillard University and three additional HBCUs in the region. We were able to achieve a five-year forbearance in 2013 and language which ultimately authorized the Secretary of Education to forgive the loans.
In 2014, I did not vote for Bill Cassidy over Landrieu.
When he won the election, my job was to get to know him because he was one of two senators, and that made Dillard one of his constituents. Bill Cassidy had the same mindset. He engaged us knowing that Dillard was important to Louisiana, and that it was his responsibility to get to know us. He made good on that commitment early on, accepting an invitation from political science professor Gary Clark to meet with his class. A small seminar class had a great opportunity to talk politics with a sitting United States senator.
Over the past six years, time and time again Cassidy proved by his actions that he was sincere about his job. Prior to the pandemic, I normally made several trips to Washington each year. Every time I visited his office, I was able to meet with Cassidy or his first-class education policy team. It was not uncommon for him to remind me that he wanted a diverse set of interns, not worrying about party affiliation. When I mentioned the challenges many students have with unpaid internships in Washington, he committed to look for ways to offset those costs.
On one occasion, while at a meeting for private colleges and universities, Cassidy told the Louisiana delegation he didn’t have time for a sit-down meeting, but if we were willing we could talk while walking with him to his next appointment. Traveling the tunnels of the Senate, we were able to update him on several issues. It would have been easy for him to say he was too busy, but he made time.
While we will never agree on every issue, I believe Bill Cassidy has approached his job thoughtfully and diligently. His vote to convict the former president was made the same way. He provided a reasonable explanation using evidence that we all saw and yet many chose to ignore.
Instead of being commended, the leaders of his party censured him for rejecting their groupthink orthodoxy. Yet this is the same party that led the push for public colleges and universities to protect “speech,” with language that specifically protects ideas and opinions that students might find “unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive.”
It takes a special type of hypocrisy to champion free speech and the ideas of critical thinking through accepting diverse views to later condemn someone who puts these practices into action. It is revealing that a party would have more contempt for a senator who took an oath and clearly followed it than for a former president who brazenly violated his repeatedly.
I did not vote for Cassidy last fall. It was not because of his performance; he did very well. But we should reject a party that bends the knee to a mad king, placing his needs above the people.
It’s time for the people to censure the party at the polls.
Walter M. Kimbrough is president of Dillard University in New Orleans.