by Clancy DuBos
For several weeks now I’ve been calling out Gov. Bobby Jindal to take a stand on the controversial “discrimination” bill filed by Sen. A.G. Crowe of St. Tammany. Crowe’s SB 217 would bar state agencies from protecting classes of people who are not already protected under state law. Jindal finally showed his hand — quietly — in the Senate debate of Crowe’s bill on Tuesday. Aides to the governor passed out notes to senators asking them to support Crowe’s bill.
“Please support SB 217,” the note from “Office of the Governor” read. “This bill provides relative to discrimination regarding certain public contracts including the limitation of categories for nondiscrimination purposes.”
After an hour of debate, senators voted instead to return the bill to the calendar, which defers but does not kill the measure. It could come back up at any time. Still, returning the bill to the calendar marks one of the few times this session that Jindal did not get his way with lawmakers. I doubt that will hurt him nearly as much as the national publicity that is certain to come if he tries to “go national” after this.
Current state law bars discrimination against persons based on six factors — race, religion, national ancestry, age, sex or disability. If Crowe’s bill passes, no other classes of persons (gays, e.g.) could be protected.
During the debate, Crowe argued that the bill has been mischaracterized by its opponents. He said it was never his intention to discriminate against school children. Recent history proves otherwise, however. When the bill was heard by the committee Crowe chairs, his own legal expert used state contracts with charter schools as a prime example of the kind of “rogue” lawmaking that the Jindal Administration (in the legal expert’s words) had embarked upon. He sarcastically cited as his “personal favorite” the state’s charter school contract requirement that charters not discriminate based on sexual orientation. The expert, LSU law professor Randy Trahan, emphatically said the bill would apply “across the board” to charter schools, teachers and students. Crowe, sitting in the chairman’s post, did not object to that statement.
The only other witness to testify for Crowe’s bill in committee was a woman who presides over a local charter school board. Her entire testimony was couched in terms of charter schools and gay students. Again, Crowe made no move to say that the bill was not aimed at charters and school kids.
The real architect of the bill is the Louisiana Family Forum, but for some reason LFF leader Gene Mills has been closeted on this one. Trahan admitted under questioning that he got some of his information about charter school contracts from LFF, and on the Senate floor Crowe dodged questions from Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, about who helped draft the bill and amendments.
For now, the bill is on the shelf. Crowe can pull it off at any time, however.
It will be interesting to see if Jindal intensifies his lobbying efforts on behalf of the measure. If he does, he will cement his good standing with the Evangelical wing of the GOP — but probably also cement his shoes when it comes to his national ambitions. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was the darling of the Evangelical Right this election year — and much more polished, better looking and more articulate than Jindal. He also folded after a few months against the more moderate Mitt Romney after it became clear that he could never win a general election for president based on his extreme right-wing views.
Based on Santorum's ill-fated effort to win the GOP nomination, it would appear that Jindal, who bombed in his only star turn on national TV, would have an even more difficult time trying to sell himself to a national audience. But don't expect that to stop the ambitious Jindal, who appears hell-bent to bail out of Louisiana first chance he gets.