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Opinion | A Committee of Vultures

Newly-elected State Treasurer John Schroder campaigned for a job he never fully understood, and as he demonstrated in a recent state bond commission meeting, his ignorance isn’t just embarrassing; it’s bad for business.

Unless you were one of the few dozen people who tuned in or turned up at 7:30AM last Thursday to listen to a meeting of Louisiana’s state bond commission, something that is usually less entertaining than watching paint dry, you missed one of the year’s most absurd and embarrassing acts of political theater and the debut performance of John Schroder, Louisiana’s newly-elected state treasurer.

Well, technically, Schroder had already presided over a couple of other meetings and was previously known for his role as “Fiscal Hawk” during the Jindal administration, but last Thursday, he finally asserted himself as a lead actor.

Unfortunately, however, Schroder proved himself to be anything but a leader. As Louisiana continues to grapple with a years-long budget crisis and a political system broken by craven partisans, the new state treasurer- if last Thursday is any indication- is yet another politician who would rather work as a Fox News contributor than as a public official responsible for solving difficult problems during a difficult time.

If that sounds harsh, consider this: Schroder has only one real responsibility, to set the agenda of state bond commission meetings, and only 24 hours before the meeting last week, he added an item to the agenda that had nothing to do with the work he was elected to do.

John Schroder wanted to talk about gun control.

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In his nearly decade-long stint in the state legislature, Schroder was a spokesman of a small group of staunchly anti-tax, anti-government spending ideologues known as the Fiscal Hawks. His intransigence on government spending earned him praise among those on the far right, but the results of his rigid orthodoxy were clear.

“Louisiana’s fiscal hawks are driving their state’s economy into the ground,” journalist Matt Higgins reported in June of 2017, placing the blame squarely on both former Gov. Bobby Jindal and state Rep. Schroder. When the two men took office in 2008, Louisiana had a surplus of over $800 million. Eight years later, the state was saddled with a $1 billion deficit, which continues to persist as a direct consequence of Republican leadership that insisted, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Louisiana could simply cut its way into prosperity.

“The state legislature and governor’s office were dominated by fiscal hawks from 2008 to 2016, and these same hawks still dominate the state House of Representatives,” Higgins explained. “However, it should clear by now to anyone watching that these representatives’ positions on government finance are anything but fiscally responsible.” Schroder differentiated himself from Jindal a few times, particularly toward the end of Jindal’s second term, but by then, the damage had been done.

His campaign for state treasurer hinged on the hope that his mere message of reducing government spending and refusing to raise taxes would resonate with enough voters that it would not matter what his record actually was. He also hoped it wouldn’t bother voters that he appeared totally uninformed about the actual job he sought or the responsibilities and financial situation of the office.

To an uninformed voter, it hardly mattered; Schroder would simply stick to the same script he had been using for his entire career.

Toward the end of his campaign, Schroder sent out a mailer touting, of all things, his steadfast commitment to the Second Amendment, an issue that had no connection whatsoever to the job he sought but one that, nonetheless, he was more than willing to exploit for his own political purposes.

It takes a special type of hubris to campaign for the office of state treasurer as if it’s a top position in law enforcement or public safety.

But as Schroder demonstrated in the one and only candidate forum, he never really understood what the job actually was in the first place. He didn’t even bother to do a minor amount of homework on the funds he would be responsible for overseeing, preferring, instead, to fall back on the same hackneyed, vapid talking points about reducing government spending that he’d been repeating during the years he helped lead the state toward financial calamity.

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So, last week, when he read a news report that Bank of America and Citigroup were changing their policies on how they invest, loan, or partner with businesses that sell guns, Schroder wanted to drag the leaders of those banks before his bond commission hearing and make them explain themselves. He’d give them only 24 hours to show up at a 7:30AM meeting in Baton Rouge. Not surprisingly, given the unprofessionally short notice and the fact that these executives lived hundreds of miles away, they sent two representatives from middle management instead, both of whom dutifully and respectfully said they would direct questions to their superiors.

“Citi, the first of the two big banks to act, said last month that it would prohibit its business partners from selling firearms to customers under the age of 21 and those who haven’t passed a background check,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “Bank of America later announced it would stop lending to manufacturers of military-inspired rifles like the one used in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead.”

Ciiti subsequently announced it would also prohibit its business partners from selling bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.

The vast majority of Louisianians and Americans favor all of these policy changes, and the constitutionality of restrictions like these was affirmed by none other than the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in his majority opinion in the landmark case D.C. v. Heller writing:

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…” It is “… not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

 “We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller (an earlier case) said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’” 

It’s a passage of the Court’s ruling that was obviously unfamiliar to State Rep. Blake Miguez, a lawyer who is best known as a reality performer on an obscure television show named “Top Gun.”

State Rep. Blake Miguez performs on a show that once aired on the History Channel

Miguez has spent most of his time in the legislature advocating for expanding gun ownership in a state with the worst gun-murder rate (more than two-and-a-half times the national average) and the worst gun safety laws in the country.

“On key measures, Louisiana has been hit harder by gun violence than any other state in the country,” a report from the Center on American Progress determined. “More than one person is murdered with a gun in Louisiana every day…. Louisiana has the highest gun-homicide rate among children ages 0–19 of any state in the country, at two-and-a-half times greater than the national average.”

So, predictably, Miguez, was ready for his performance at the bond commission meeting, even if it meant assuming the role of a modern-day Joseph McCarthy.

“Until I hear back from your policy group, it sounds like Citigroup and Bank of America does not support the Second Amendment, doesn’t fully appreciate the Second Amendment and the rights of the citizens of Louisiana and the United States have, to defend themselves  and their families,” Miguez said. “So if Citigroup and Bank of America has this stance, I would recommend to this bond commission that the state of Louisiana in return takes a look at the contracts we have with Citigroup.”

And then he asked the most revealing question of the entire hearing: “How is Citigroup…. Can you tell me about any contracts that Citigroup or Bank of America currently has with the State of Louisiana, currently?”

Blake Miguez had no idea whether either of these banks actually did business with Louisiana.

John Schroder stepped in. “Rep. Miguez, we have that information. I’ll have the staff pass that out. Currently we have no activity with Citigroup, no contracts. We do have a lot of business going on with Bank of America. There’s probably about $424 million out right now in loans. Certainly right now we have our processing contracts. Certainly there is business, and I can have staff send that information out to all of the members.” (emphasis added).

That’s right. Citigroup doesn’t even do business with Louisiana, and we owe Bank of America nearly a half a billion dollars. Presumably, the idea is for Louisiana to default on this enormous debt unless Bank of America reverses its decision and decides to lend money to businesses that sell semi-automatic weapons to teenagers.

Enter Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Landry’s testimony was equally as torturous and hyperbolic, demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of the differences between public policy and business policy and accusing both banks of engaging in “fassism.”

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This was the meeting’s original agenda:

Thursday’s meeting was supposed to be about providing funding for schools, aviation facilities, and infrastructure projects. All told, the meeting lasted nearly two hours; an hour and a half was about guns.

Although Schroder limited his own discussion, he is responsible for planning this embarrassing charade, and he deserves the blame for the entire ridiculous spectacle.

After this humiliating display of hysteria and threats, John Schroder is already sending a strong message to the global business community about what they should expect if they consider locating in Louisiana: If you don’t believe in arming teenagers with weapons of war, you’re not welcome here.

John Schroder isn’t a hawk anymore. A group of hawks is called a “cast,” which may be fitting. But the more appropriate bird to describe his actions is a vulture.

A group of vultures is called a committee.

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