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Lawmaker loses chairman job after dispute with House speaker

May 27, 2021 GMT

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — House Speaker Clay Schexnayder ousted his education committee chairman Wednesday, after Rep. Ray Garofalo repeatedly bucked the speaker’s wishes in a simmering Republican intraparty feud that began with a bill about how to teach racism in schools.

Schexnayder announced his decision in a statement, hours after Garofalo sought to chair the House Education Committee he’d been asked to temporarily abandon. But this time, Schexnayder yanked Garofalo from the leadership job permanently.

“It is our duty to continually prioritize the needs of our state over and above the needs or desires of any one individual. With this in mind and with careful consideration, I have decided to remove Rep. Ray Garofalo as the chairman,” Schexnayder, from Gonzales, said in his first public comments about the dispute.

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Rep. Mark Wright, the Covington Republican who has been vice chairman of the committee, will serve as chairman for the rest of session.

Schexnayder cited Garofalo’s “refusal to mitigate the ongoing situation.”

“With very little time left in this legislative session, it is vital for the House, as a body, to do its job and stay focused on the goal at hand — to deliver for the people of the state,” Schexnayder said.

The disagreement stems from Garofalo’s decision to move ahead with a bill that seeks to put limits on classroom discussions about racism. The proposal sparked weeks of racial tensions in the House and has worsened fractures among Republicans.

Last week, Garofalo, of St. Bernard Parish, said he was removed as education committee chairman. But the House’s second-ranking Republican, Rep. Tanner Magee, said Garofalo was only asked to temporarily step down from the chairmanship for the rest of the legislative session, not for the full term.

Since then, Schexnayder hadn’t filed any paperwork to remove Garofalo as chairman, so Garofalo decided to chair Wednesday’s hearing. But he said Schexnayder disagreed. Most committee members didn’t show up, and the full agenda was scrapped.

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Garofalo said Schexnayder told him Wednesday morning before the hearing: “If you go up there, I’m going to have you removed from the building or I’m going to cancel the meeting.” Garofalo waited 45 minutes for enough committee members to show up to vote on bills but had to jettison the meeting when it became clear lawmakers weren’t arriving.

“It’s ridiculous,” Garofalo said. “I get the politics. But don’t make me a chairman in name only.”

The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, which helped Schexnayder obtain the speaker’s job, had called for Garofalo’s ejection from the chairman’s job in late April and had been withholding support for a tax overhaul sought by Schexnayder and other legislative leaders. With Garofalo apparently sidelined last week, the tax measures won bipartisan support.

Black lawmakers were upset with Garofalo’s legislation aimed at blocking the teaching of critical race theory, an examination of the ways in which race and racism have influenced politics, culture, government systems and laws.

The bill — similar to measures proposed by Republican lawmakers in numerous states — remains stalled in committee. It would prohibit teaching in public schools or colleges that either the United States or Louisiana is “systematically racist or sexist,” and forbid giving students or employees information that “promotes divisive concepts.”

Lawmakers said Schexnayder asked Garofalo not to push ahead with the bill, but Garofalo held an hourslong hearing anyway, in which he referenced the “good” of slavery. Since then, Garofalo has doubled down on defending the legislation, and state Republican Party leaders have rallied to his cause.

The comments about slavery came in an exchange with New Orleans Republican Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, who asked Garofalo to explain how the measure would work practically in a classroom.

“If you’re having a discussion on whatever the case may be, on slavery, then you can talk about everything having to do with slavery: the good, the bad, the ugly,” Garofalo said.

Hilferty interrupted him: “There’s no good to slavery, though.”

Garofalo quickly replied: “You’re right. I didn’t mean to imply that. And I don’t believe that.”

But after the Black Caucus sought Garofalo’s ouster as chairman, Garofalo refused to apologize for the statements. Magee has said Garofalo is trying to position himself as “martyr” and refuses to work collaboratively with Schexnayder.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.