The members of the Legislative Black Caucus of the Louisiana House sit in the chamber. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)
After calls from the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus that he be removed as chair of the Louisiana House Education Committee, Rep. Ray Garofalo (R-Chalmette) has finally been removed from that position. Even so, Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat who serves as chair of the Black Caucus, told the Illuminator Tuesday evening that tensions between Black and White lawmakers “obviously are (high) and it’s probably going to get worse.”
Garofalo issued a press release Tuesday with the headline “Republican Speaker Chooses Black Democrats Over Fellow Republican Chairman.” In that press release, Garofalo writes, “I want to be clear; I did NOT voluntarily step down as chairman.”
The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus asked House Speaker Clay Schexnayder to remove Garofalo as chair of the education committee in April after Garofalo, who had sponsored a bill that would have barred the state’s students from learning about institutional racism, said any lessons about American slavery should include “the good, the bad, the ugy” about the practice.
When Rep. Stephanie Hilferty (R-Metairie) said, “There’s no good to slavery, though,” Garofalo immediately replied, “You’re right. I didn’t mean to imply that. And I don’t believe that.”
“Each time that I have met with the Speaker regarding this issue, I requested a plan of action regarding the situation,” Garofalo writes in his press release. “Consistently, I was not given a plan.” He writes that Schexnayder asked him to “step aside” for the remainder of this session and he refused, “resulting (in) my removal.”
Garofalo accused the Black Caucus of holding up Schexnayder’s tax reform bills because he hadn’t yet removed him as education chair and further accused Schexnayder of “sacrificing me to the Black Caucus, who seem to be controlling the Louisiana House of Representatives this term.”
In an interview Tuesday, James said if the Black Caucus really were in charge of the House, “we would have a lot more stuff done.”
Garofalo said his bill prohibiting public schools from teaching about systemic racism and sexism “is more important to the students and families in Louisiana than the tax reform bills that the Speaker is pushing as part of his agenda.”
James said the Black Caucus is not supporting Schexnayder’s tax bills because programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit — which benefits poorer people — haven’t been included in the proposed reform package. He said even if Schexnayder had decided against removing Garofalo, he would “not have been mad at the speaker for the leadership he has shown.”
James said Garofalo has been a distraction to legislation the Black Caucus has moving through the legislature this session, including a bill that would establish Office of Women’s Health, a bill making African American studies courses among those students can take to qualify for TOPS and a bill that would prevent misbehaving police officers who are sued from claiming qualified immunity as a defense.
Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Tanner Magee (R-Houma) gave a conflicting account of what happened between Schexnayder and Garofalo, according to a report in the Associated Press.
“Clay has given Ray every opportunity to participate and work with people so he would not have to be removed as chairman and accomplish tax reform. Ray has refused at every step and has dug his heels in,” Magee said according to that news report.
Garofalo was asked by the speaker “to put his personal ambition aside. He refused and left the meeting,” Magee said in that account. “Now he’s telling everyone he’s been removed so he can be a martyr.
Rep. Mark Wright, the vice chair of the committee, served as chair for Tuesday’s House Education Committee meeting. Wright has led all or most of the committee meetings since Garofalo introduced his legislation to ban teaching about systemic racism and sexism from public schools.
Wright said in a Tuesday interview that he’s unsure about the future of the committee’s leadership.
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