The shame of no shame: Louisiana legislators and their self-interests

“For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.”
C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew

By Robert Mann

If you observe the Louisiana Legislature long enough, you might become inured to the narrow-minded, selfish view of the world that too often pervades the place.

Louisiana State Capitol, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Louisiana State Capitol, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will never forget watching a 2003 Senate committee debate on an ethics bill during which a senator berated the legislation at length, not on its merits, but because parts of the proposed law would harm him financially.

I had been around politics for more than 20 years then, so the idea of self-serving politicians was not an alien concept. What was new to me was the brazenness of this senator’s self-interested discussion of the bill, and the utter lack of shock or contempt in the room after he was done.

No one seemed to think anything was wrong when a senator voted against an ethics bill purely because it would make him a bit poorer.

Over time, I came to realize that such statements were not at all rare among legislators.

I recalled that disgraceful episode when I read about the Senate’s narrow defeat last week of Senate Bill 153, “The Equal Pay for Women Act.”

This bill is needed more in Louisiana than almost anywhere else. As the New Orleans Times-Picayune recently noted,

Only Wyoming, at 67 cents, has a wider gender pay gap than Louisiana, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. The average man in Louisiana makes $46,313 a year, nearly $15,000 more than the average woman in the state, according to the American Association of University Women, or AAUW.

It’s a nationwide problem, of course. A 2012 report by the AAUW found that

just one year out of college, women [nationally] are paid, on average, 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male peers. The report further shows that women are paid 7 percent less than men even when they work in the same job, major in the same field, and work the same number of hours per week. By some estimates, women could lose up to $1 million over a 40-year career because of the pay gap.

But all of this is apparently news to Republican Sen. Conrad Appel of Metairie who, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate, said

he could see the [equal pay bill] “opening the door for litigation” for small businessmen like himself.

Appel said his wife asked him to vote against SB153 because “it’s not fair to the women who are successful in this world, such as my wife.” She makes more than the men with whom she works and the law could prompt businessmen to pay everyone the same, he said.

Yes, you read that correctly. Appel voted against the bill because he’s concerned that someone might sue him, and because his wife — who apparently draws a very comfortable income — asked him to.

A more self-aware person, having just uttered such shocking words, might have apologized, saying something like, “My God, did I just say that out loud?”

A more principled and ethical group of senators might have hooted Appel off the floor for voting his self-interests and paying no mind to the greater good or even the substantive merits (or demerits) of the bill.

But, of course, nothing of the sort happened.

That’s because it’s just not unusual to observe a House or Senate member blatantly vote his or her interests.

They’re not all selfishly devoted to their own personal and financial wellbeing, of course. But far too many members seem to be — and too many others are apparently desensitized to the appalling greediness and ignorance in their midst.

If a member can safely stand on the floor of Louisiana’s Senate and announce his opposition to a bill based on how it personally affects him and his wife, something is dreadfully, terribly corrupt in Baton Rouge.

Is there any hope for an institution whose members do not know shame?

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13 Responses to The shame of no shame: Louisiana legislators and their self-interests

  1. Chrilter says:

    Don’t forget about House Bill 5 (Bill prohibiting enforcement of federal law pertaining to firearms which is incredibly unconstitutional) from this year’s session.

    On the floor on the bill was the author, LaGOP Rep. Jim Morris who said “I don’t care if we spend every dollar we got so long as my rights are protected” in response to a question about how this was just going to cost the State lots of money in litigation costs.

    You have to love the moxy of a representative from the middle of nowhere with very few constituents willing to bankrupt the entire state over “his rights” even when he doesn’t know what are those rights.

    Of course, HB5 passed the house and awaits the full Senate.


    • Matt Walton says:

      Where exactly is the middle of nowhere? And any high school graduate should know that Rep. Morris has the same number of constituents as any other state representative, + or- 5%. Does not living in some city south of 190 mean that we don’t deserve the same representation as you? I respect your disagreement with this legislation, but to dismiss it on the basis of Rep. Morris’ address or that of his constituents instead of its merits or lack thereof is simply ugly and wrong.


      • Chrilter says:

        I dismissed the legislation in the first sentence where I say it is blatantly unconstitutional. Further, the middle of nowhere is exactly where Oil City is located. You may disagree with my assertion about the few constituents, but I was merely commenting as to those whom Rep. Morris “has heard from regarding the merits of this bill”. You see, as a representative, you have to represent the people of your district, BUT you have also taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. So, that means that from time to time you have to explain to your constituents that what they want cannot be achieved through a bill passed by the state legislature. You have to explain to them that if what they seek is absolutely unfettered rights to own weapons then they must petition their Congressional Representatives to bring a Constitutional Amendment which states such a right and have them pass it that way. Please stop this charade of being offended and actually get down to the argument at hand.


  2. Ken Burk says:

    I am completely not surprised by this, but do you feel that the politicians here are worse than those elsewhere? From what I can tell, most of them everywhere are self serving.


    • Robert Mann says:

      You are undoubtedly correct, Ken. But I wonder if the unapologetic, blatant nature of the self interest isn’t more pronounced here than most places.


      • Stephen Winham says:

        Based on my limited experience, I agree, Bob. I remember my first trips to Oregon in the early 1980s. I was astounded by the difference in the way their legislature and state government in general seemed to operate – openly, honestly, and with concern for the common good of the state. James T. Freeman [post below] obviously finds Nebraska’s governance superior to Louisiana’s also and there is a lot of truth in his post.


  3. And then you have the larger, scarier issue that no one wants to talk about.

    Despite various similarities to a Latin American authoritarian state at various times in its history, it is nevertheless true that all of these shameless lawmakers in that shameful excuse for a legislature were freely elected in more-or-less fair elections from a relatively representative subset of the Louisiana electorate. This is what people voted for; this is the sort of people attracted to “public service” in the Gret Stet.

    If it is true that culture precedes politics — and it is — then what Louisiana faces is far worse than a legislative cluster-you-know-what. What is faces, and I would submit that this has its roots in colonial times, is a profound cultural problem.

    The joie de vivre of my home state is a wonderful thing. The indigenous musical and culinary cultures are wondrous things. The way Louisiana families or small communities often pull together when hardship strikes can be an awe-inspiring thing to behold.

    But the fact is — and this has been demonstrated over and over again the past three centuries — is that Louisiana does not do commonweal well at all. It does not do law and order well. It does nothing well that falls under “basic functions of state” for democratic, Western societies.

    In fact, Louisiana doesn’t even do Bible Belt well, despite having it run through large swaths of the state — “love thy neighbor as thyself” too often suffers from the narrowest of interpretations, and the Christian worldview there certainly doesn’t extend to self-governance according to basic, biblical standards of social justice. Or integrity. Obviously.

    No, Louisiana don’t mess with no civil-society crap. It don’t do no commonweal because that leads to a commonwealth, and that just sounds pinko-commie. And it definitely gets in the way of “I got mine — f*** you!” That’s what Bobby Jindal has been selling in its most distilled form since he was elected governor, and it’s what the average Louisianian has been more than happy to buy . . . at least until the average Louisianian found himself squarely in the ranks of the “f*** yous.”

    Let me amend that. I ought to have said “until the average Louisianian finally *realized* he was squarely in the ranks of the ‘f*** yous.'”

    None of these things are political problems; they are deep-rooted cultural ones that happen to have led to long-term, catastrophic governmental and political (and, increasingly, economic) problems. Oh, let’s not forget demographic problems as the state continues to hollow out as its children increasingly decide that Louisiana might be a great place to be *from* but. . . .

    Everybody loves a parade, and Louisiana folk love a good crawfish boil. But a parade is no cause for joy if you can’t go to one without getting shot at, and a good crawfish boil is a bad thing if it becomes just another bayou version of “bread and circuses” distracting decent people from the civic rot surrounding them — and the rot within the heart that lets what’s going on down there these days continually come to pass, with the acceptance of one injustice or outrage merely setting the stage for the next, more outlandish one.

    I was born and raised in Baton Rouge. I graduated from Baton Rouge High and LSU. For most of the last three decades, I’ve lived in Omaha, my wife’s hometown. Nebraska is now as much home as Louisiana — probably more so — and I love it here.

    Folks back in Louisiana think I’m nuts for living on the Plains, amid the winter’s Arctic cold and snow. What hurts my heart is that Nebraskans oftentimes think Louisianians are nuts, but it’s not for living amid the heat, humidity and hurricanes.

    The weather, you can’t do anything about.


  4. 50 shades of lies says:

    The weather does run in correlation to the politics! The changed policies and rules put in place by the Jindal administration has been likened to Hurricane Katrina! Democrats as well as Republican Senators and State Representatives have bowed to ALEC, unconstitutional student vouchers, all in the name of big money! They could care less about the people whom they pretend to represent. They all feed from the same greedy trough! While Hurricane season is upon us, the people of our State should remember the last 5 1/2 years of this state legislatures votes, the serious cuts to healthcare and education, and the means of abuse and neglect to have everything privatized! There are more voters in Louisiana than there are State representatives and Senators. When the weather changes, and the election season is upon us, we the people should choose representatives who desire to work for the people who elect them! We need to make them understand that the people voted them in that office, and we the people can take them out.


  5. Milford Fryer says:

    Ethics in government, Bob? Dream on.

    When the Republicans were meeting in the proverbial phone booth, the Democratic party in the state housed conservatives as staunch as any now populating the GOP in the state. But the Republicans promised us efficent government, honesty, decency and a good climate for business. Conservative values.

    What they have done is attack education, reject progressive infrastructure, provide government contracts to their cronies, diminish the overall economy, punish those less fortunate, elevate partisanship and inflict their personal philosphies on everyone.

    Sure, they have given a nod to businesses. Why David Vitter, in the old days of the Democrats, would have possibly just had an affair instead hiring the work out.

    And while there may not be as much brazen grabbing from the public till, the Republican majority has utilized much more sophisticated ways to direct portions of the public fisc into private funds. All that’s really changed is the distribution list is shorter.

    To paraphrase the irascible Earl Long, reform ain’t been nothin’ but turning the fat hogs out and letting the fatter hogs in.

    Where is the conservative government I was promised? Certainly not in the current distortion of the term that exists.


  6. flyingcuttlefish says:

    Reblogged this on The Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle and commented:
    And the Louisiana Oil & Gas industry lobby helps themselves by “helping” friends!


  7. Pingback: The shame of no shame: Louisiana legislators and their self-interests | The Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle

  8. Pingback: Louisiana: the high price of low expectations | Something Like the Truth

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