Lately, it appears that state politics is a live-action version of the old Warner Brothers cartoons we watched on Saturday morning. For example, the Wile E. Coyotes of House GOP leadership keep luring the state’s citizen Road Runners ever closer to the edge of the fiscal cliff. And the recent revelation of texts of the actual communications Secretary of State Tom Schedler sent to his executive secretary, who is now suing him for sexual harassment, make him look a lot like Pepe’ Le Pew.
It could be funny – if it wasn’t real life.
Early Thursday morning, a full cast of cartoon characters showed up for the State Bond Commission meeting. It all began when U.S. Senator and former Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy – in the role of Spike the Bulldog – got his knickers in a knot over Citigroup and Bank of America announcing new policies for their business clients who deal in guns.
“Our friends at Citigroup and Bank of America apparently aren’t busy enough with their banking business; they have decided that they are going to set policy for the second amendment,” Kennedy said during a congressional hearing on April 13. And for the next ten days it was all he talked about on Twitter.
Current state Treasurer John Schroder – playing Chester the Terrier – paid attention, of course. After all, he has made it clear that, “Anything you say, Spike, ‘cuz you and me is pals. Spike is my hero.” He then summoned the Bond Commission and representatives of the two banking institutions to a 7:30 a.m. meeting.
“I want to discuss the corporate firearms policy recently adopted by Citigroup and Bank of America. It looks like these 2 companies have decided to quit doing business with people who don’t comply with what Citigroug and B of A think the laws on selling and owning firearms should be,” Schroder announced. “ I’ve been troubled to read and see the policies, and I asked the Attorney General last week and the two banks to be here today so we can have an open discussion on this issue.”
Ron Davis with Bank of America apologized for his CEO’s inavailability on such short notice, and said he would refer any questions to the bank’s public policy group in Dallas. Michael Hole, with Citigroup, was more expansive, reading a statement on the policy enacted by his employer.
“On March 22, Citigroup announced a new policy for our retail customers who retail firearms. One, they must perform background checks. Two, they don’t sell to anyone under 21. And three, they don’t sell bumpstocks or high-capacity magazines. If Citigroup’s clients don’t choose to comply, we will work with them to transition their business to another financial institution,” Hole explained. “We respect individual second amendment rights. This policy applies standards for our interactions with business clients of our firm.”
Then Yosemite Sam, a.k.a. Rep. Blake Miguez (who originally ran for the legislature on his “fame” from having appeared as a competitor on the History Channel program “Top Shot”), unholstered his verbal guns.
“Will you answer questions?” Miguez asked, and then immediately started firing. “When did you decide to get into policy-making business instead of the banking business? Are you aware Louisiana passed a constitutional amendment in 2012, requiring strict scrutiny of any attempt to infringe on our second amendment rights? Your policies restrict 18 to 20 year-olds from buying guns, but you support sending these young people to war, and then say they can’t come home and defend their families?”
“We appreciate your concerns…” Hole began, but Miguez wasn’t finished.
“I am very concerned, because your policies infringe on the rights of the citizens of Louisiana and their families, and their right to the 2nd Amendment. How much money did you guys take in the bailout of 2008? It was billions! All of it tax dollars, including tax dollars paid by the citizens of Louisiana. For all our generosity to you, why do you look down on the citizens of this state? Why insult them by infringing on their 2nd amendment rights?
“A national article I read said you are transitioning away from gun-related businesses,” Miguez continued. “I just think we should repay the courtesy and start transitioning business away from Citibank and B of A, because if you can’t do business with the law-abiding citizens in the state of Louisiana, why should the state of Louisiana do business with you?”
Enter Elmer Fudd.
“It’s offensive to me that Bank of America and Citigroup think they can engage in public policy decisions. Is it American to just decide arbitrarily who we sell guns to and who we don’t? Why isn’t this ‘fassism’ at its best?” Attorney General Jeff Landry began his screed (and we presume he meant “fascism”).“’Fassism’ is when you take the industries of a country and you turn it into oppressive policies, and that’s what this is! Who made Bank of America and Citigroup the social police?
“Do y’all do any business with automobile dealerships? With any pharmaceutical manufacturers?” Landry continued on his rant. ”Opioids are killing 60-thousand people a year! Automobiles kill 37-thousand! You sell a car to anybody – you don’t have to be 18. And yet cars kill three times as many people as guns!“
(Wait a minute. Isn’t the mantra “guns don’t kill people”?)
Foghorn Leghorn put in a cameo then, as portrayed by Senate President John Alario.
“Will it be our policy when we get a letter from a congressman to hold special meetings like this? I’m concerned, with all the things we’ve got going on during the session,” Alario inquired. “It’s a different thing if a contract with them is on the agenda. But if every time a congressman sends us a letter, we gotta have a meeting. I get a little concerned about scheduling my time.”
“Senator Alario, just for the record, you know, when Senator Kennedy sent that letter to me, my first question was to the Attorney General – hey, are we violating Louisiana law?” Schroder responded. “That’s what I want to know.
The Senator brought it up and I thought it was my duty to look into it.”
“Now, we do have a contract coming up in June, and I have a resolution,’ the Treasurer continued. “I asked my executive counsel, in conjunction with the Attorney General, to draft this resolution, as I am troubled by the policies of these big banks.”
As members each perused a copy of the resolution, Senate Finance Committee chairman Eric LaFleur attempted (as Bugs Bunny often does) to bring some logic to bear on the discussion.
“I know we all have personal opinions on the second amendment, but this language about ‘discriminating against citizens based on their lawful exercise of their constitutional rights’? You’re going to capture all kinds of things in that net, I would think,” LaFleur observed. “If a company is exercising their first amendment right, as protected by the U.S. Supreme Court, how to you balance – how do you reconcile – those two?”
“The companies are private parties who have taken private party action, but government does not have to condone that,” the Treasurer’s executive counsel, Thomas Enright, replied. “This would simply put a question in the solicitation, and they can answer it, ‘No, we do not discriminate against the citizens of the state of Louisiana,’ and that would satisfy the question.”
Alario chimed in again, “It says ‘otherwise unlawfully discriminate.’ Does that mean they’ll have to evaluate for race, religion, and sex discrimination, as well?”
The undercurrent to LaFleur’s and Alario’s comments was, of course, the Attorney General’s battle with Governor John Bel Edwards over the governor’s executive order prohibiting discrimination by any company seeking a state contract. Landry took the governor to court over it all, asking repeatedly to be declared the supreme legal authority of the sate. That didn’t happen, but the state Supreme Court decided last month not to grant a hearing on the dispute over Edwards’ executive order, prohibiting discrimination based on “gender identity’.
Sadly, Landry didn’t see the inherent hypocrisy in protecting rights for some, and not for others, as he started tazzing over reluctance to move forward with the resolution.
“First of all, let me say it’s amazing we’re having this conversation in this state. I didn’t know our 2nd amendment rights are up for sale, or there’s a price on them!” Landry harangued commission members. “This is a very simple question: do we as the state of Louisiana want to do business if these companies are discriminating against our citizens? All we’re saying is if you want to engage in this particular policy, we as a state don’t want to do business with you!
“I wholeheartedly support this resolution, and if Citigroup and ‘BO-FA’ want the business that bad, tell them to change their policy!” Landry wound up. (And yes, he did pronounce “B of A”, as Bank of America is familiarly called, as “Bo-Fa”.)
“I agree with the AG’s statement,” Miguez said, approvingly. “I think we need to take a stand today to say that we support the 2nd amendment. At the appropriate time I’d like to move forward with the resolution. I think the citizens back home expect us to support their rights.”
Senator Jay Luneau objected, saying, “My concern is that we’re inviting litigation which would use up very scarce resources and put us in a position where these projects get delayed. I suggest we deal with this later.”
“I move that we move forward with this resolution,” Landry insisted.
“I would like to make a substitute motion, to amend this resolution,” said the governor’s executive counsel, Matthew Block.
“I was wondering when you were going to say something,” Schroder said, snidely.
“We’re discussing a very important issue, not just relating to the 2nd amendment, but to the fiscal policy of this state,” Block explained. “This has language, frankly, that is open to wide variation of interpretation. This has not been thought through as to how this is handled mechanically, and I suggest we remove parts of this resolution.”
You know that cartoon scene where everybody gets in a squiggled tangle? Yep, that’s what happened next, over – of all things – the next procedural step.
“We have a motion and a second,” Schroder, the Bond Commission chairman said. “Take a roll call vote on it…as is.”
“No, we have to vote on the substitute first,” LaFleur said.
“Normally, parliamentary issues are decided by the senior legal representative on the commission, which would be the Attorney General,” Enright refereed.
“We vote on this motion. If it fails, we can take up yours after,” Landry told Block.
“Mr. Chairman,” Alario said directly to Schroder, “it has been customary that when you have an original motion, there is opportunity to offer a substitute. That is what it says in Robert’s Rules of Order. I know the AG is new to this commission — I believe this is the first meeting he has attended, but you know, Mr. Chairman, the first amendment is very important, too.”
“The motion was made. A second was made. We vote on that,“ Landry contended. “Afterwise, if then he wants to offer a motion to substitute that, he can — after that.”
“Mr. Attorney General, you can’t rewrite parliamentary procedure!” Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said, with annoyance. “When somebody makes a substitute motion, you vote on the substitute motion first. Then, if it fails, you vote on the main motion. I mean, this is Parliamentary Procedure 101 – legislative procedure 101. If there’s a substitute motion on the floor, you vote on it first.”
“You can do it like I said, under Robert’s Rules of Order, and that how we’re going to do this,” the AG insisted.
“That sounds more like Landry’s Rules of Order,” Alario commented, not quite under his breath.
At this point, Schroder has found himself in a real dilemma. Does he conduct the meeting according to proper procedure, or does he allow Landry’s ideological farce – which Schroder has aided and abetted up till now – play out according to the AG’s self-serving and erroneous version of the rules?
Schroder leans back in his chair, takes a deep breath, and then beckons his counsel forward, with a single finger.
“I’m going to take a second, because I know how I’ve done this for ten years in the legislature,” Schroder says to those assembled. “And I want some clarification.”
While he conferred with his lawyer, there was more than a little snickering behind hands in the audience, while Landry’s face flushed a deep pink.
“Okay, we have a lot of customs in this building, and I wanted to make sure I was accurate in…um…” Schroder said, clearly discomfited by the glare he was getting from Landry. Looking down, instead of at the panel, he continued, “So we had a motion, and a substitute motion. Would you clarify that substitute, Mr. Block?”
The governor’s counsel suggested they remove the part of the resolution prohibiting companies with these policies from consideration, and simply turn it into an inquiry about such policies, to be included as a factor in the overall evaluation of bond bids.
“I want to object to that,” Landry said. “That just clouds the issue. We can make our statement today.”
A roll call vote was taken, with House members on the Bond Commission (all Republicans) aligning with the AG and the Treasurer. Senate members, the representatives of other statewide elected officials, as well as members of the administration voted for removing the prohibition, so the substitute motion carried the day.
When all was said and done, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statement:“The State Bond Commission meeting was an ugly display of political posturing that could have jeopardized a massive infrastructure plan for the state of Louisiana.”
We doubt we’ll be hearing Porky Pig’s immortal words — “That’s all, folks!” — anytime soon.