Buddy Roemer, 1943-2021

Buddy Roemer, 1943-2021

Brilliant and mercurial, Buddy Roemer swept into the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion in 1988 by promising reform in a state that was economically reeling due to the collapse of the oil industry. He lost re-election four years later after voters – and legislators – tired of his agenda and leadership style. The Advocate’s Tyler Bridges explains the complex legacy of the man who graduated from Harvard at 20, started two successful businesses and tried to wean the state from its historic reliance on oil and gas revenue to finance state government.  

As governor, with state finances so crippled Louisiana could barely pay its bills, Roemer sold off government airplanes and, with legislative approval, cut popular spending programs and borrowed $1 billion that the state would soon pay off as finances improved. … In 1989, Roemer sought to restructure Louisiana’s tax system with a referendum that he said would put the state on solid financial ground for years. Voters rejected the measure, known as “fiscal reform.”

But if Roemer’s record fell short of his ambitions, an Advocate editorial notes that he left a lasting imprint on state government – ushering in the gambling industry while championing some forward-looking tax changes.

While voters rejected a 1989 reform of state finances, many of those proposals were eventually adopted, albeit piecemeal. The Roemer Revolution had more impact, again eventually, than many recognized at the time. … We think that Roemer would like to be remembered in particular for his embrace of environmental reforms. Sorely neglected by Edwards, pollution controls annoyed powerful industries and probably contributed to Roemer’s political problems. But he built a legacy that over the next three decades changed Louisiana’s approach to its natural riches.

No retroactive relief on non-unanimous verdicts
When Louisiana voters outlawed the state’s racist law that allowed people to be convicted of a crime by a non-unanimous jury vote, the change only applied to convictions that took place after 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court had the opportunity to apply justice to everyone who was convicted by non-unanimous juries, but on Monday ruled against making this new, more equitable standard retroactive. Opponents of the new standard, including Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, warned of “disruption” that would occur if people convicted under a racist system were given new trials. The AP’s Jessica Gresko reports

During arguments in the case in December, which were held by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic, the justices were told that ruling in favor of the prisoners could mean retrials for 1,000 to 1,600 people in Louisiana alone. States and the Trump administration had urged the court not to give more prisoners the benefit of the ruling, saying doing so would be “massively disruptive” in both Louisiana and Oregon and might mean “the release of violent offenders who cannot practically be retried.”

Ban on natural hair discrimination moves forward
In 2010, a call center in Mobile, Alabama, rescinded a job offer to Chastity Jones because she wore her hair in short natural locs. Jones’ dismissal sparked lawsuits and a wider reckoning over employer policies that cast natural Black hair as unprofessional. House Bill 382 by Rep. Candace Newell would ban discrimination against people who wear their hair in natural or protective hairstyles, ending de facto requirements that Black people undergo chemical or heat treatments on their hair to maintain a job at some employers. On Tuesday, the bill narrowly passed out of the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure. JC Canicosa has the story for the Illuminator:

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Candance Newell (D-New Orleans), would protect people from discrimination in any form because of “natural hairstyles and protective hairstyles,” including afros, dreadlocks, twists, locs, braids, cornrow braids, Bantu knots, and curls. Newell told the committee “I did not believe that a person should be discriminated against based on the way their hair grows naturally out of their scalp.” Newell testified that when she had a job interview, she “had to determine whether or not I would go as ‘myself’ — what you see today — or if I was to sit and let a stylist put heat and chemicals in my hair to straighten it.”

Garofalo loses his chairmanship
State Rep. Ray Garofalo, whose controversial bid to outlaw the teaching of critical race theory in Louisiana public schools, has lost his chairmanship of the House Education Committee. The move was engineered by House GOP leaders, who worried that lingering anger over Garofalo’s attempts to whitewash the teaching of history in state classrooms would imperil their efforts to overhaul the state tax structure. Tax bills require a two-thirds majority to pass, giving important leverage to the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, which led the opposition to Garofalo’s bill. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:

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. “He’s a distraction from the goals of the session. He’s an obstacle. We would like to get some meaningful tax reform done,” (House Speaker Pro Tem Tanner) Magee said. “Clay has given Ray every opportunity to participate and work with people so he would not have to be removed as chairman and accomplish tax reform. Ray has refused at every step and has dug his heels in.”

Tell your legislators you support Louisiana families!
This legislative session, our state representatives have the opportunity to invest in Louisiana families by strengthening our Earned Income Tax Credit and by creating a new tax credit for low- and middle-income families with young children. These are small investments that will make a big difference for the people of our state. Take action now. Let your representatives know that now is the time to invest in the people of Louisiana!

Number of the Day
$500 – Amount proposed for first-offense fines for Louisiana employers that misclassify workers as independent contractors under House Bill 705 by Rep. Neil Riser. First-offense fines average around $5,000 for the rest of the country.  (Source: Louisiana Illuminator)