Spare a thought for Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge. He drew the short straw in our story about the dipsy doodle that is the official voting record of the state House of Representatives.
Legislators can vote one way on the floor and go back later to get their names moved to the other column. Or if they weren’t around, or couldn’t be bothered, when the bill came up, they can plug their names into the record when nobody is looking.
It was Huval’s misfortune to provide the sole example in our account of how the system works. Huval had voted for a bill reducing the penalties for marijuana possession, which was long overdue. Our policy of throwing minor offenders into the slammer for long stretches is not only mindless and cruel but also a colossal waste of money.
Voting for common sense and decency always requires a certain amount of courage, because that is not the way to keep constituents happy. It might leave the door open in the next election campaign for some challenger to promise a more robust response to crime and an end to the mollycoddling of dopeheads. Tag the incumbent “liberal” and he could well be toast. The bill just scraped through the House.
What thoughts then went through Huval’s mind, we can only guess. But we do know that he was not at ease with his vote, because he up and changed it.
Unfortunately for him, it was the switcheroo that made the paper. So he emerges with the worst of both worlds — now everyone knows not only that he went to bat for weed but also tried to cover his tracks and fool the public.
Given that there have been several hundred doctored House votes over the last three sessions, Huval might feel somewhat aggrieved that the light shines on his. Since he was clearly on the side of reason with the vote he cast on the floor, he must now wish he had stuck to his guns.
House members are allowed to adjust their votes for the record only if the fate of a bill is unaffected. Thus, Huval needed some help before he could fix the record. It was provided by state Reps. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, and Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, who had been absent for the vote and now appeared to add their names to the yeas, clearing the way for Huval to beat a tactical retreat.
The House rule that allows this to happen is hardly the most pernicious deception practiced in Baton Rouge. Indeed, the current session may have produced a new standard in intellectual dishonesty, as we are asked to believe that legislators can raise revenues by hundreds of millions without a net increase in taxes. There is no point in looking for straight dealing amid the semantic somersaults required to fill the budget hole and still give Gov. Bobby Jindal a shot at the blessing of Grover Norquist’s anti-tax brigade.
House members adopted the rule that provides for amended votes purely for their own benefit years ago. That it serves no public purpose is reason enough to jettison it, particularly as such chicanery is verboten in the Senate.
The state constitution requires that the official journal accurately record House proceedings, and it does allow the public to figure out what happened on the floor. Any amended votes are noted under the tally in the official journal. But if you get your dope from the legislative website, you will only find the final, recalculated votes.
LSU law professor Ray Lamonica points out that even the journal record may not comport with the constitution. The question, he says, is: “Does it accurately reflect their vote and their presence at the time of the vote, or is the public being deceived?”
Legislators aren’t going to lie awake nights fretting about the state constitution, having just demonstrated their disdain for it. They adopted a slew of tax hikes, which are supposed to require a two-thirds vote, by a simple majority.
In the circumstances, switching votes might not much diminish the reputation of the House. It would need more than that.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.