Wednesday, 20 May 2015 16:38

The Sound and the fury of Jindal's Louisiana religious freedom actions

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mansionby James Hartman

There are bills legislators file to make meaningful policy changes, and bills lawmakers file to make a statement.  HB 707 was the latter.  It was a solution in search of a problem, but it also was essentially harmless.  No one would’ve been hurt by it.   


For weeks, it has been speculated that one of Gov. Jindal’s handlers manipulated the freshman lawmaker into filing it to give the governor campaign fodder (perhaps without Rep. Johnson’s knowledge), and Gov. Jindal did not disappoint.  By embracing the bill in his opening address at the beginning of the Session, the governor tried to position himself as a social conservative in the presidential race, using the bill – and the legislator – as tools for his own agenda.  That the governor launched ads in Iowa espousing his social conservative views on the same day Johnson’s bill was to be heard in committee was strategically brilliant – although ultimately futile.  If the bill cleared committee, Jindal could claim supporter status.  If it didn’t, Jindal could issue his pre-crafted executive order and claim hero status.  

Alas, Gov. Jindal will not ever convince national voters that he’s more of a social conservative than other already-announced GOP candidates – Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Rick Santorum.   Rep. Johnson, while well-meaning, has been a pawn in someone else’s national gambit. 

At the end of the day, the outcome in today’s committee hearing – a 10-2 vote to defer it -- is best for all concerned.  It protects, at least somewhat, Rep. Johnson – a good fellow, really – from being demonized (or lionized) by either side.  It protects lawmakers from having to take a difficult and divisive vote.  (Various biased polls notwithstanding, HB 707 was not wildly popular.)  And it puts Gov. Jindal right where he wants to be, as the erstwhile darling of the Religious Right – a position he will not hold for long. 

HB 707 was sound and fury, signifying nothing other than Jindal’s ambition and Johnson’s advancement.  Neither the bill nor the executive order will cause harm to Louisiana’s economy or its treatment of LGBT people.  Johnson made his understandable position known.   Lawmakers on the committee got to play nice and avoid a travesty no matter how they decided.  Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. John Bel Edwards got to play the media darling – a position he also will not hold for long, since Sen. David Vitter is an unstoppable train on the rail to the Governor’s Mansion.  The only real loser in this fandango will be the current governor himself, who will quickly become an also-ran in the GOP primaries and whose manipulations of the state Legislature will backfire. 

In truth, the bill made sense, although it did address a non-existent issue, at least in Louisiana.  No same-sex couples are trying to get married in Bunkie or Ville Platte.  But as a business owner, working in the political sphere, should my staff and I have to work for a candidate who espouses Sharia Law – a religious belief that flies in the face of my own deeply held Christian beliefs?  Dear Heaven, I hope not.  No liberal would support such a thing, but they loudly decried the opposite in HB 707. 

Rep. Johnson is a man of conviction.  Did this bill need to be filed?  Did it need to advance?  No.  Certainly not.  Would it have hurt Louisiana’s business climate?   Perhaps, according to some who testified on Tuesday, and that would be a bad thing.  Is Rep. Johnson a hater?  I doubt it.  Is Gov. Jindal?  No; he lacks the energy to espouse a real position, other than one which advances his own misguided ambitions.  With his executive order, Jindal has inadvertently insulated the rest of the state from big businesses rejecting perceived Louisianan bigotry; the onus is now all on him, and since he’ll be gone in eight months, no one will hold his actions against the state as a business-friendly whole. 

Regardless, HB 707 will ultimately wind up on the wrong side of history.  So will Gov. Jindal.  Rep. Johnson’s fate is far more favorable, and so is the future of the LGBT citizenry.  Everybody can – or should – relax now, calm down, and focus on the issues that matter and impact all of Louisiana.   HB 707 was not one of them. 

A native of Washington, D.C., and a graduate of Tulane University, James Hartman is the founder of James Hartman & Associates, a political consulting, polling and communications firm based in New Orleans.  His firm’s clients have included the Civic Democratic Party in the Czech Republic, the People’s Democratic Party of Nigeria, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), and numerous elected officials. 

[Macbeth:] To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (Macbeth, Act V, Scene v)

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