Rep. Ray Garofalo calls roll for the House Education Committee, but does not have a quorum. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)
A week after he said he was unfairly stripped of his position as chair of the Louisiana House Education Committee, Rep. Ray Garofalo (R-Chalmette) said he’s still chair and tried to preside over a Wednesday morning meeting of the committee. However, no meeting happened because only one other member of the 15-member committee showed up.
Garofalo’s removal as chair of the committee was requested by the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus after he sponsored a bill that would have banned lessons that implicate the U.S. or Louisiana as being systematically racist or sexist.
Garofalo acknowledged Wednesday morning that his attempt to lead the meeting was in defiance of Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales). But he said he proceeded because Schexnayder has continued to refer to him as “Chairman Garofalo.”
“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.’”
Forty-five minutes after the meeting’s scheduled start time and with Rep. Beryl Amedee, (R-Houma), the only other committee member present, the meeting was called off for lack of a quorum. “First time I’ve ever had to call a meeting based on lack of a quorum,” Garofalo said to an audience that included lobbyists there to argue for legislation. “I apologize to everyone that had bills. We’ll try to reschedule next week.”
Wednesday’s meeting is the latest episode in an ongoing saga that began when Garofalo, upset that LSU’s Reilly Center was hosting a panel series called “Racism: Dismantling the System,” introduced legislation that would prohibit lessons that detail how systemic racism has shaped the United States or Louisiana.
While speaking in support of his bill in April, Garofalo said that any lessons about slavery should include “the good, the bad, the ugly” about that institution; 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.
Depending on the source, Garofalo either quit as chair May 18 or was made to step down.
Garofalo issued a press release 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.”
Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Tanner Magee (R-Houma) told the Associated Press that Schexnayder asked Garofalo “to put his personal ambition aside. He refused and left the meeting,” Magee said according to the news report. “Now he’s telling everyone he’s been removed so he can be a martyr.”
Garofalo told reporters in the committee room Wednesday that he isn’t sure when the bills that were scheduled for Wednesday will be heard, but “If I’m still chairman, I’m going to do my duty.”
Brass said to the Illuminator he didn’t know anything about House Education Committee members skipping out on Wednesday’s meeting. Rep. Tammy Phelps (D-Shreveport) said she showed up, but no one was there, so she left to attend to other things.
House Education Committee members were redirected to Scheexnayder’s office this morning instead of the committee meeting, Amedee said to the Illuminator.
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