My secret meeting with Louisiana’s Speaker of the House

   

I really wasn’t planning to tell you all this. The tipping point was finding out that the speaker called a group of legislators and attorneys to his office for the express purpose of browbeating four ladies who had also been invited. My meeting was probably intended to be the same kind of thing. Although I really enjoyed it, I can see how anyone else might have really been intimidated by a similar experience. If they hadn’t tried to intimidate those ladies, you might never have known about any of this.

It all began with a question posed on Facebook

By Saturday, October 3rd, some days had passed since the Hayride revealed Stuart Bishop signed and then removed his name from the Nelson-Bacala petition to reopen Louisiana’s economy. That Bishop signed it wasn’t really a surprise. That’s because he has told me, repeatedly, that he signed the Seabaugh Petition. What was a surprise was finding out that the same day he signed the petition, he also removed his name.

Here’s how the Hayride put it:

It’s so shady right now that yesterday evening when the Nelson-Bacala petition was getting its 35 signatures, one of Schexnayder’s top lieutenants Stuart Bishop went and signed it – and then came back moments later to take his name off the petition. Whether Bishop was confused or sandbagging, it’s hard to tell. But this kind of crap is what we have now.

Since several days had passed, I figured Stuart Bishop must have seen the article and said something about it on one of his social media profiles. Not finding any denunciation, I decided to form a rhetorical question for the public.

Why did Stuart Bishop back out of a petition to reopen Louisiana’s economy?

Posted by Citizens for a New Louisiana on Saturday, October 3, 2020

Unlike a previous, similar question directed to the Carlee camp, this question didn’t draw ire from the local press. However, almost immediately, it did get Stuart Bishop’s attention.

Stuart Bishop called me almost right away

An hour hadn’t passed when my phone rang and that call lasted the better part of an hour. We’ve talked before, and the conversations are very similar. What was a little different about this one is he admitted the Hayride was right – that he did sign the petition. Afterward he realized that the best solution would be to instead use a legislative instrument. After all, they did call a very expensive special session.

We weren’t making much headway toward an agreement. So, he all but dared me to meet with him and the speaker, Clay Schexnayder and to “come alone.” My schedule had a conflict, but I agreed to rearrange things. A few minutes later he called back, excited to announce the meeting is confirmed with the speaker. He also added Speaker Pro Temp, Tanner Magee. And so the meeting was set for 3:00 PM, on Monday, October 5th.

A series of cheap power plays

The whole meeting was a text-book example of cheap power plays and psychological tricks. Even though I arrived exactly on time, I was asked to wait. That felt a little odd considering that only two days earlier Stuart Bishop said the Speaker’s entire schedule was clear. However, I knew making someone wait is an almost cliche, albeit subtle, power move.

When I was finally shown in, nearly ten minutes late, the speaker asked me to put my phone in a basket. Once done, his assistant scurried off with it. As expected, the meeting contained Speaker Schexnayder, Pro Temp Magee, and Ways and Means Chairman Stuart Bishop. Two surprise additions included Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jean-Paul Coussan and Commerce Committee Chairman Paula Davis. Apparently Mrs. Davis is a regular at these meetings, as she also attended the previously mentioned one with the four ladies.

Bishop opened by accusing me of posting things that are not true. However, the reason for my being summoned to this particular meeting was entirely true. Stuart Bishop did, by his own admission, sign onto the Bacala petition and then remove himself. At some point in the meeting I must have mentioned this. However, the meeting was rather rapid-fire, where a different member of the five would randomly change the subject or ask an unrelated question.

You tell me, since you know so much

This was a constant theme of the meeting. They wanted me to explain my position and all the things I thought they should do. The preface was usually something like, “since you know so much.” I began talking about the eight months that have elapsed since the governor’s lockdown began. The Seabaugh petition to reopen the state was circulating as early as March but the speaker (and Stuart Bishop at first) had opposed it. Tanner Magee jumped in to ask me about my legal experience: am I an attorney, did I ask an attorney to look at the petition, etc. The point of his questioning was that all of the attorneys he’s talked to suggest the petition is an invalid solution. Although he asked me for names of attorneys who I talked to, he wasn’t prepared to offer names of those who said it wouldn’t work.

We’ve arrived that “the Seabaugh petition won’t work.” Aside from that, what has the legislature accomplished in these eight long months? The economy is shut down, we’re in 50th place, but, by george, the governor gave us high school football. Note the accomplishment isn’t “we forced the governor.” No. It’s the governor “allowed.”

Where are you getting your information?

Another recurring theme of the meeting was trying figure out, “where are you getting your information?” As if reading the Hayride or news reports wasn’t good enough. One’s opinion should be discarded who doesn’t have an apartment in the pentagon barracks, or sleeps on the capitol grounds, or eats all three meals at the Democrat Cafe in the capitol. Who really cares if the economy is shut down? We’re working really, really hard to reopen things and “you people” with opinions aren’t helping.

Someone (Mrs. Davis, perhaps) had disparaging remarks for the Hayride. I reminded the room that regardless of their opinion of the Hayride, Stuart Bishop had already confirmed his signing and removing his name from the petition, mooting their point.

But we’re really important people!

The conversation turned to reminding me that the room contained the most powerful Republicans in the entire state. Speaker Pro Temp, Tanner Magee, produced a scrap of paper with some handwritten notes. I couldn’t see it clearly from across the table. However, it was a handwritten amalgamation of several legislative scorecards. I remember him bringing up LABI and CPAC scores.

The exact numbers that came out escape me now, but I do remember someone in the room having a higher conservative rating than Beryl Amedee. This surprised me greatly because Mrs. Amedee is probably the most conservative person I know in the legislature. She just votes right, regardless of any consequences. Paula Davis suggested that Beryl Amedee wasn’t all that conservative. She added an exclamation point by asking me to tell her how many bills Mrs. Amedee had passed. I wasn’t permitted time to quote conservative icon Calvin Coolidge, “it’s much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.”

They latched on to my shock. Even though I hadn’t seen Mrs. Amedee since the state Republican Party meeting months earlier, suddenly, she’s all they wanted to talk about. I just wanted to know why the speaker (who was in attendance at that same state Republican Party meeting) blocked the membership from using the entire house chamber. He had some weird social distancing rule that allowed half of the Republicans to be in the chamber, but required the rest to stand outside in the heat. Members separated in such a way can not be expected to hold a decent meeting or have an accurate vote tally.

This particular meeting was incredibly important, too. The party held their quadrennial election for national committeeman and committeewoman. These are the two people who sit on the National Republican Party, representing Louisiana. The committeewoman vote was decided by a razor-thin margin of just one vote. The confusion caused by Clay Schexnayder’s refusal to allow the body to meet together in the same room could have been a major contributing factor to who won that race.

Unfortunately, the rapid-fire questioning kept me from that topic.

They kept telling me how much the Governor hates the speaker

Stuart Bishop brought up the “gang of 23” title worn by those in the room. We went through the history, but nearly everyone blurred out “NO!” when I asked if John Bel Edwards whipped votes for Schexnayder. The answer was a little too quick, coming out even before I had finished the question. As “proof,” Tanner Magee mentioned two Democrats who had “planned to” vote for Sherman Mack for speaker. They were Cedric Glover and Patrick Jefferson. He opened his phone’s twitter app to prove it – something I couldn’t do, as my phone was still in a basket outside of our meeting room.

Then I asked, “but how’d they vote?” Magee had to acknowledge that they did, in fact, vote along with every other Democrat for Clay Schexnayder. He then changed the premise, suggesting that only the freshman legislators wanted Sherman Mack. Since that wasn’t going anywhere, Clay Schexnayder (who had been nearly silent for the entire meeting) brought up his previous position in the legislature: a relatively insignificant role as Agriculture Committee Chairman. In the resumption of a recurring theme, he wanted me to tell him how many of his capital outlay projects had been vetoed by the governor in the prior four years.

Back to the power plays

Of course I didn’t know the answer to such a specific question. I don’t even know how many projects were canceled in my own State Rep’s district in the same period. For the moment I’ll assume the specific amount wasn’t as important as my not knowing the answer. Once that was established, he quickly moved on. However, he never actually said that any of his projects were vetoed.

We went round and round on whether the legislature even had the power to override the governor. That was telling. I suggested that one state had already done it. Schexnayder then wanted to know if it only required 53 legislators in a single chamber to do so. Of course I didn’t know how many legislatures it took to override governor’s orders in other states. They heaped on again about how I should have all these details down exactly before saying anything about them.

Stuart Bishop calls me a liar

In the most entertaining part of the meeting, Stuart Bishop said my video suggested he should extort legislators in Jefferson Parish. Of course that was never suggested. Paula Davis piled on, “I think that’d be illegal.” When I asked if anyone had actually watched the video, Paula Davis said she hadn’t even seen it! Stuart pulled the video up on his phone and played it aloud for everyone.

He then asked the attorney in the room, Tanner Magee, to tell everyone that I asked Mr. Bishop to extort other legislators. After hearing the video for himself (probably for the first time) Tanner Magee didn’t seem as confident in Stuart’s theory. Mrs. Davis was likewise quieted temporarily.

At some point, Jean-Paul Coussan said this was the most independent legislature in the state’s history. I suggested the previous speaker, Taylor Barras, would argue that point. Schexnayder scoffed.

Meeting ends suddenly

Paula Davis asked which legislative instrument to reopen the economy I preferred. I asked which one they could get the seventy votes required to override an Edwards veto. Clay Schexnayder spoke up and asked, “did we have the seventy to override the veto for tort reform?” Note the trick: he formed it as a question, never actually saying he had seventy votes. I mentioned that he never called a veto override vote for Kirk Talbot’s omnibus premium reduction act. Then, they artfully changed the subject. “Wait, you don’t know that tort reform passed,” Paula Davis interrupted? Schexnayder added, “we passed tort reform.” With that, he stood and withdrew, breaking up the meeting.

It really was artful: in all the hubbub, my point was never addressed. Yes, during the regular session, Kirk Talbot’s omnibus “tort reform” bill passed both chambers and was vetoed by the governor. Apparently, Schexnayder wants me to think he called a veto override vote and beat the governor. What actually happened is he let Kirt Talbot’s bill die. Then, in the first extraordinary session, he slapped his own name on a watered down version that Edwards would accept. That bill was HB-57, which was signed by the governor, not vetoed.

What you’re doing is working

The real reason I was summoned to the capitol was because of you. If you weren’t engaged and paying close attention to what’s going on in Baton Rouge, these “gang of 23” legislators would be running wide-open. Instead, they’re spending a tremendous amount of time keeping up appearances. So far, it looks like this $1.8 MILLION special session was called for only that reason.

During the meeting, I kept trying to bring the conversation back to, “what has the legislature accomplished in these last eight month.” The only answer that came back was a semblance of progress with no real substance. On October 27th, when the special session ends, we’ll know for sure what this was all about. Did they really want to reopen the economy, or was the whole maneuver yet another delay tactic just to keep you occupied?

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