Garofalo officially removed as chair of Louisiana House Education Committee

Rep. Ray Garofalo chairs a mostly empty House Education Committee room. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

After weeks of a political drama in the House Education Committee that spilled over into the full House, Rep. Ray Garofalo (R-Chalmette) was officially removed as chair of that committee by Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales).

“As elected members of the legislature, it is our duty to continually prioritize the needs of our state over and above the needs or desires of any one individual,” Schexnayder said in a written statement Wednesday afternoon. “With this in mind and with careful consideration, I have decided to remove Representative Ray Garofalo as the Chairman of the Louisiana House Education Committee. “

Calls for Garofalo’s removal started when 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.

He quickly said that he didn’t mean to imply that there’d been anything good about slavery, but his comments made national headlines, and the Black Caucus, which said the language in the bill was offensive enough, demanded that he be removed as chair of the House Education Committee.

Garofalo, who said he’d been told by Schexnayder to smooth things over, told the House chamber that his words had been taken out of context and misconstrued and that he considers other lawmakers to be his family.  Immediately thereafter, Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) tweeted:  “The worst apology in the history of apologies.”

At a May 12 meeting of the House Education committee kept disappearing when bills were being debated and reappearing when votes were being taken. “I truly do not understand how the chairman can be in another room and not presiding, and then come in the room to vote,” Rep. Ken Brass, a Vacherie Democrat and member of the Legislative Black Caucus, said.

Garofalo suggested in a written statement from May 18 that he was forced out as chair, but on Wednesday morning, he attempted to run an education committee meeting because, he said, Schexnayder had continued to refer to him as “Chairman Garofalo.”

Garofalo acknowledged Wednesday morning that his attempt to lead the meeting was in defiance of Schexnayder who, he said, had told him not to do it.  “I went to the speaker this morning and said ‘I’m here,’” Garofalo told reporters in the committee room. “‘If I’m your chairman, I’m going to do my duty. (Schexnayder) said ‘Don’t go start that meeting. If you start that meeting, we’re going to have you removed from the building or I’m going to cancel it.’”

The meeting did not go on as scheduled because only one other member — Rep. Beryl Amedee (R-Houma) — of the 15-member committee showed up and the meeting was called off for lack of a quorum.

Amedee said later Wednesday that committee members headed to the meeting were redirected to Schexnayder’s office instead. 

The committee meeting has been rescheduled for 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Rep. Mark Wright (R-Covington), vice chairman of the committee, will lead the committee for the rest of the session.

“With very little time left in this legislative session, it is vital for the House, as a body, to do its job and stay focused on the goal at hand – to deliver for the people of the state,” Schexnayder said in his statement.