Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Written by Walter Pierce

In the waning days of the session, what goes around comes around.

Politics is good when it achieves solutions, better when it rights a wrong and best when it provides grist for a column. In the state House of Representatives on Friday there was just enough grist to turn my mill.

Senate Bill 185 by Sen. Nick Gautreaux of Abbeville flew through the upper chamber of the Legislature in the early weeks of the session, 36 to zip, and then fell off a cliff in the House Friday. The bill would have amended the state constitution, pending voter approval, so that someone convicted of a felony under the laws of another state or of the United States or of a foreign government and who has not been pardoned wouldn’t qualify as a candidate for public office, provided the crime would also constitute a felony in Louisiana. One political observer I spoke with called it a “pure redneck bill that should’ve sailed through,” meaning it was one of those red-meat, law-and-order measures that typically face little opposition, as was the case in the Senate.

But on Friday when the bill was up for final adoption in the House, Rep. Rickey Hardy manufactured what he calls “a teachable moment” and convinced 45 other representatives to indefinitely postpone Gautreaux’s bill. Indefinitely postpone is a delicate way of saying kill. And in this case, teachable moment is a delicate way of saying payback.

It was a stunning move, in part because it came after House members debated an amendment to clarify language in the bill. SB 185 was spit-shined, polished and ready for passage. But just as members were set to vote on SB 185, the light at Hardy’s desk lit up, signalling his desire to speak. When the Lafayette Democrat offered his motion to indefinitely postpone 185, a shudder rippled through the chamber.

20100623-re-0101In taking to the floor to put the kibosh on 185, Hardy didn’t invoke any third-degree black belt rhetoric; he didn’t impugn the bill’s intent or question its necessity. Instead, he recounted the history of one of his own bills — HB 1188, which, as I detailed in last week’s column, would have put a $20 per hour cap on the arguably exorbitant rates public school bus drivers are paid for field trips and extracurricular excursions. That bill, like Gautreaux’s SB 185, enjoyed overwhelming parochial support, passing 81-4 in the House, in part because it applied only to Lafayette Parish. But it died, er, was indefinitely postponed in the Senate through a motion of Gautreaux, a Democrat who represents all of Vermilion Parish plus about a third of Lafayette and Acadia parishes and a tiny portion of St. Landry. Gautreaux’s Senate District 26 and Hardy’s House District 44 don’t overlap.

“I’m asking you to lend me a hand and send a message,” Hardy told his fellow lawmakers. The final vote on postponement was 46 in favor, 38 opposed.
When the gavel fell on 185, hoots, hollers and a smattering of applause echoed in the House.

Hardy was unapologetic afterwards. Speaking via cellphone following the vote, the chatter of the House floor in the background, he summed it up in typical Rickey Hardy fashion: “Payback is a dish best served cold.”

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