One of the recurring motifs in Charles Schulz's classic comic strip Peanuts involves the character Lucy and her football. Time and again she tees up the ball for the hapless everyman Charlie Brown to placekick, and every time she snatches it up at the last moment, leaving him to fall flat on his back. No matter how many times she tricks him, Charlie Brown always believes that next time will be different — and he always ends up flat on his back.
That's a fitting metaphor for Louisiana voters and some of the people they send to Baton Rouge. Every election, we're promised fiscal reform, higher ethical standards and no-nonsense governance — and every time we end up on our backs. In 2007, Gov. Bobby Jindal promised ethics reform and a better business climate. Once in office, he fought every bill to make his office more transparent and proceeded to pander to the Religious Right on a number of issues that would give any major employer pause before moving to Louisiana.
Last year brought a new promise of change, with a slate of candidates backed by the various Tea Parties across the state — candidates who promised to focus on lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and opposition to President Barack Obama's health care initiative. The New York Times noted then that the Tea Parties seemed to differ from their predecessors in one significant way: They were focused on fiscal, not social issues. "God, life and family get little if any mention in statements or manifestos," the Times wrote. Last fall, buoyed by statewide anti-Obama sentiment and a neutered Democratic party, Republicans took control of both houses of the Louisiana Legislature, promising to roll up their sleeves and tackle a projected $1.6 billion state deficit.
Then — surprise — Lucy snatched the ball away.
In the weeks before budget talks began, right-wing lawmakers dropped their "Don't Tread On Me" flags and took up conservative social issues with renewed vigor. Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, who was kicked off the House Health & Welfare Committee in 2008 when he embarrassed the GOP by proposing paid sterilization for women on government assistance, was suddenly back in the spotlight, reviving an oft-killed bill to require drug testing of individuals on government assistance. This year LaBruzzo, who faces a difficult re-election fight, also offered a measure that would charge abortion providers with feticide, even though such bills have been struck down summarily by the courts.
It didn't end there.
A bill to repeal the misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act — which opens the door to teaching creationism in public school biology classes — got whacked in the Senate Education Committee, despite support from 43 Nobel laureates. Another committee unanimously approved a bill to install a statue of the Ten Commandments on the Capitol grounds. Legislators even knocked down an innocuous bill by Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, to outlaw bullying in schools. Opponents claimed the anti-bullying bill would lead to acceptance of "alternative lifestyles." Badon saw through that, telling Gambit, "What it really was was a 'scorecard' vote for the [Louisiana] Family Forum (LFF). It's an election year, and members wanted to look good on the scorecard that the Family Forum sends out."
The Baton Rouge-based LFF, formed in 1998, holds little sway in New Orleans, but its annual "scorecard" of legislative votes seems to turn lawmakers' knees to water elsewhere in the state. Its power has grown under the reign of purported small-government conservatives. LFF director Gene Mills delivered the daily prayer on the floor of Congress on May 25. Worst of all, Jindal supports every sop to the Intolerant Right, which belies his pro-business platitudes. The truth is, no Fortune 500 company would move to a state where creationism is taught as biology.
Meanwhile, what of the Tea Parties? Despite their purported distaste for business as usual, there hasn't been a peep out of them as lawmakers and Jindal have divided us once again on social issues rather than uniting us behind economic development opportunities.
As major companies continue to avoid Louisiana, voters who were seduced by some lawmakers' promises of non-intrusive government find themselves like Charlie Brown, flat on their backs after Lucy has once again snatched away the football.