Louisiana House passes Real ID legislation offering alternative compliance _lowres (copy)

Louisiana House of Representatives advanced on April 17, 2016 an alternative for the state to offer REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses that would that make it easier for residents to take commercial flights and enter federal facilities. REAL ID licenses will be required for travel on Oct. 1, 2021.

The federal Transportation Security Administration last week tweeted out a reminder that airline travelers are going to need REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses with a Gold Star in order to fly starting Oct. 1, 2021.

Or as TSA likes to say: “Without a Star — You won’t go far.”

A takeaway from the remarkably quiet denouement to a once intense political play — one that delayed implementation in 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2018, 2020 — is how fleeting white-hot “talking points” are in a partisan world.

The policy differences that really distinguish partisans revolve around obtuse taxing philosophies and nuanced spending priorities, a detailed discussion of which inevitably  causes chins of everyday voters to fall to chests and wallets to stay in pockets. Star polemics – like REAL ID and Common Core – tend to burn bright, energizing bases, identifying friend from foe and filling campaign coffers.

REAL ID was initially passed in 2005 by a Republican-majority Congress before my son, who now is a sophomore in college, started kindergarten. In the aftermath of 9/11, during which terrorists hijacked commercial airlines and drove passenger planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Congress decided that traveling incognito wasn’t constitutionally protected and security required that knowing the guy in the middle seat is who he says he is.

But the law required state participation, which Louisiana along with fewer than a dozen other states refused to do.

State Rep. Brett Geymann was the legislative point man in Louisiana’s opposition back during his first tour of the Legislature from 2004 and 2016. After stepping down because of term limits, then sitting out a term, the Lake Charles Republican is returning to Baton Rouge with REAL ID soon to be implemented and the issue no longer on his agenda.

The effort to ensure driver’s licenses could be trusted to identify the bearer raised the “papers, please” specter in a nation that long had rejected the concept of national identification cards.

Opposition to REAL ID created a kind of modern take on the Old Testament’s Isaiah 11:6-7, in which lions and lambs sleep together.

Marjorie R. Esman, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Louisiana chapter, predicted in April 2010 that REAL ID driver's licenses would be used to track people's movements. Agreeing with her, probably for the only time ever, the Rev. Gene Mills, head of the conservative evangelical Louisiana Family Forum, added: “This is a huge infringement on our personal property.”

Soon after Geymann left the Legislature in 2016, lawmakers overturned the law he sponsored that blocked Louisiana from compliance with REAL ID. Louisiana drivers were  given the choice of whether or not to get the Gold Star. The Office of Motor Vehicles then bought the equipment and set up the procedures to collect the necessary documents — mostly original birth certificates — confirm their authenticity, store them in a searchable database and only then emboss a gold star on the driver’s license. The process became routine. 

“It was a hot topic for a while. I don’t hear anybody talk about it now,” Geymann said Thursday.

Similarly, Common Core quietly fizzled away over time after angry protest marches, screaming public meetings, and legislators having fingers wagged in their faces.

A group of governors during Bush’s presidency wanted American students to achieve minimum academic standards. Then-Gov. Bobby Jindal initially was an enthusiastic supporter. Parents began griping that their kids were no longer bringing home As and then accused the federal government of trying to take over public education. Angling for his presidential run, Jindal in 2010 flip-flopped on the issue.

However, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the state’s ultimate policy deciders for the state’s 700,000 or so, public school students, changed the name of the program, then quietly adopted mostly the same standards. Anger over Common Core became no more. 

And so it’ll likely be with the attack on the presidential election’s veracity. No evidence of fraud large enough to overturn the results has been presented and some of the accusations are unsustainably far-fetched, such as one of the voting machine companies, under orders from Venezuela, changed hundreds of thousands of votes.

And then there are the legislators in 37 states who are attempting in more than 200 bills, The New York Times reported last week, to remove power from governors who became near-dictators, they say, under the guise of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of Louisiana's Republican House majority last year signed a petition that drew a similar hardline. But no senator signed and the effort to clip Edwards' wings fizzled under arguments that committees can't handle emergencies efficiently.

Notwithstanding the drumbeat of bloggers, talk radio and Facebook for senators to sign the petition this year, ardor has waned somewhat. The numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths “appear to be leveling off,” Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday during a town hall sponsored by The Advocate | The Times-Picayune.

Or, in the words that one of the fire-breathing GOP senators would only say if not identified: “It’s almost over, time to move on.”

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.