BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Tensions at the capitol have been rising in recent weeks since a controversial bill gained national attention and disrupted the legislative session. Representative Ray Garofalo brought a bill that would ban Critical Race Theory education in Louisiana schools. Since then, the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus has called for his removal as chairman due to the divisiveness of that bill.
So, what is Critical Race Theory? The theory presents the idea that systemic racism is part of American society and that policies and laws that put white people in a place of privilege over people of color still flourish today. It isn’t a new idea and has been around for decades but it has been a topic of discussion around the country recently with Tennessee and Idaho banning its teaching.
Many did not pay close attention to Rep. Garofalo’s bill at the start. He proposed the bill after a Critical Race Theory discussion had been held at LSU earlier in the year. The bill gained national attention after this comment in the hearing for the bill went viral:
“Having a discussion on whatever the case may be, on slavery. Then you can talk about everything dealing with slavery, the good, the bad, the ugly,” Rep. Garofalo said.
He backtracked the comment immediately but the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus had had enough. The four-hour hearing ended with the bill being voluntarily deferred anyway. The caucus requested that Rep. Garofalo was removed as chairman of the House Education Committee due to the divisiveness of the bill.
“We knew that him bringing this bill would cause the uproar that it caused,” said Representative Edward ‘Ted’ James II, the Chairman of the Black Caucus. “It’s his prerogative to bring the legislation but I’m a committee chairman so I’m asked not to bring certain instruments that will cause division and I don’t.”
Rep. Garofalo spoke on the House floor days after the incident and released a statement emphasizing his bill is to create a discrimination free environment in schools. He also reiterated the statement in the committee was not meant to show he believes there is any ‘good’ side to slavery.
Since the hearing, he has been quiet in his own committee and not taking up the bill again. Fellow Republican Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder met with Rep. Garofalo on Monday and asked him to step down as chairman for the remainder of the session to which he refused.
“I have always been taught that you don’t respond to ignorance. I thought that was a purely ignorant statement,” Rep. James said. “We made a request; the speaker made a request of him, and he hadn’t abided by him and I think that Ray has been a distraction and we are moving forward.”
Rep. Garofalo said in a statement he believes his bill was more important than the tax reform bills, which the Speaker needs the support of the Black Caucus to pass. He stated he was being ‘sacrificed’ to the Black Caucus.
“Chairman Garofalo has chosen to blame us for his fate, but I think even in the letter that he wrote shows he truly doesn’t deserve to be a chairman,” Rep. James said.
In his letter, Rep. Garofalo described critical race theory as a cancer and said he will continue to fight it in Louisiana schools.
House Bill 564 was originally taken off the table after the original hearing, but it could be possible it will come back up later in the session. The committee was split on a vote to involuntarily defer it. It is not clear if or when he will bring it up in committee again.