Saturday, May 15, 2010

HB 1205 Update

Now that I've got Commencement stuff behind me, I can give a little time and attention to HB 1205 [Click here for the full text of the bill.] and my recent experience in Baton Rouge at the Louisiana State Capitol this past Thursday where I went with a strong contingent of about 40 people or so to register opposition to and to testify against this bill.

The Judiciary Committee commenced its hearings at 9:00AM and it wasn't until about 38 minutes into the Committee hearings for the day that HB 1205 came up for consideration. If you want to see the video archive of the Judiciary Committee hearings, click here. If you want to skip to the moment when HB 1205 was called up, go to the 38 minute mark. Here you can listen to Rep. Harrison, who authored the bill, voluntarily defer the bill and give everyone a lecture on how this bill is being misunderstood. The whole span of the Committee's attention dedicated to HB 1205 lasted about 4 minutes. Watch the clip from the 38 minute mark until the 42 minute mark to get it all in. As you listen to this 4 minute segment, I would ask that you note a couple of things: (1) Rep. Harrison never mentions the purpose and target of his bill. Listening to him speak, with the exception of a reference to the Arizona legislation, you would hardly notice at all that the bill is about illegal immigration. Read the bill closely, listen to Harrison try to explain this bill, and then compare for yourself whether what Harrison claims matches up with what this bill tries to do. Personally, I think Harrison is being vague and dishonest. He declares that the intent of this bill is to get the Federal government to do its job; but what he doesn't say is that the bill actually makes no mention of the federal government, doesn't target the federal government, and doesn't even indicate what the federal government's job is. It is a bill that tries to get the state to usurp the federal government's job. In that sense, it is exactly like the Arizona legislation, even if it is different in the particulars. His little bit of grandstanding, without giving those of us who showed up any opportunity even to question or challenge his deceptive representation of the bill, is a pretty pathetic abuse of the hearing process. In essence, he got an opportunity (and one presumes as much time as he would have liked) to mischaracterize his own bill, to mischaracterize what we who oppose the bill actually think is problematic with it, and to try to craft his intentions with the bill in the most positive light possible -- all without having to face any kind of challenge or criticism of his pontifications. (For this little bit of procedural shenanigans, I also hold Cedric Richmond to account, too; for Richmond, who was chairing the hearings at the time, let this happen.) [UPDATE, Tuesday, May 18, 2010, 4:10PM: Upon reflection and acknowledging the way these hearings are conducted, I don't think Richmond should really be taken too much to task. As anyone will note who attends these hearings, it is customary for Committee Chairs to give some latitude to fellow Committee members in commenting on and moving forward legislation that they have authored. I think Richmond was acting well within the practices of the legislature. As was Harrison, too. He took a bit of license with his comments; but it was brief and not overly abusive of his privileges.] (2) Speaking of Richmond, I do think it was clear that he also was caught off guard by the controversial nature of this bill and perhaps that may explain why he got snookered procedurally by Harrison in terms of letting Harrison have his say officially in front of the Committee and denying anyone the chance to rebut or respond. To get a sense of how our presence played out, listen to the last half minute or so of the clip. From the 41:30 minute mark to the 42:00 minute mark. Once Richmond thanks us for coming, you can hear the seats of the chamber snap up. If it weren't for that little bit of audio, one would never have any idea of how impressive a presence our group was in that hearing room. Even Cedric Richmond, in an unguarded moment, can be heard on the microphone at the end of the clip murmuring something like: "Jeez, this is controversial, isn't it?"

So, make what you will of that moment. A telling moment, if you ask me. But the best part of the story was yet to happen.

After our contingent left the hearing room, we all congregated in the hallway right outside the room just to discuss what our next steps would be. And while were were there, even before we had the chance to really start our conversation and say our good-byes for the long ride back home, Harrison made a boneheaded tactical error. He came up to the entire group (and remember that he sits on the Judiciary Committee himself, and so had to actually leave the ongoing Committee hearings to do so!) and confronted us. Granted, it took him some courage to approach our large group; but his anger and frustration at the showing we made caused him to say some things that came across as quite patronizing, offensive, and aggressive.

Before I mention some of these things, you should know that in our group were some of the most knowledgable, dedicated, and aware members of the scholarly, religious, and activist community who have many years of experience working on immigration issues and working with immigrants. The Director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute was there, the Executive Director of Puentes-New Orleans was there, the Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Services for the Archdiocese of New Orleans (and former Director of the Hispanic Apostolate of the Archdiocese of New Orleans) was there; the Director of Adult Education for the Hispanic Apostolate was there; and a good number of other people with extensive experience working with the Latino population were there. This was not a bunch of rabble rousing loudmouths holding up placards and chanting protest slogans, but a group of intelligent and experienced folks with serious concerns and a lot of data to share on the impacts of this proposed legislation. So, what did Harrison say to this group of people?

(1) He basically called this group ignorant and unstudied on his legislation. He even had the gall to imply that we didn't really understand the legislation and that we needed to study up on the legislation and the issues surrounding it. Regardless of what he meant to convey, his comments along these lines basically insulted just about everyone in our group.
(2) He told us that our showing up at the hearing was unfair to him and he chided us for not communicating with him previously about the bill (as if all we had to do was to get together and help him write a bill that we all thought had no place being written in the first place). He was visibly upset that we showed up in such force and numbers. He was apparently caught off-guard by this and got angry. In fact, one little tidbit of information that I haven't mentioned yet is that right before Richmond called up his bill, Harrison went up to Richmond and apparently asked him who had shown up in opposition to the bill (because we all have to sign little cards indicating the reason for our presence before the session started) and we could see Richmond whispering to Harrison as he waved his hand indicating that the entire left side of the hearing room was filled with us. But to come up to us and to essentially tell us we were out of place in showing up because we didn't have the courtesy to warn him in advance of our concerns and intentions to show up, now that took some chutzpah! And it conveyed to every single person in our group that he had no desire nor inclination to want to let us have our say in this public setting. He came across as the worst type of politician who believes that his little domain in the State Capitol, among his little legislative/politico fraternity, has no business being defiled by, you know, us citizens!

Of course, a few of us tried to respond to his rants, but I won't go into these responses. Suffice it to say that it was tense. He was perhaps a bit too aggressive and confrontational in tone and spirit (and some of us responded in kind). It wasn't an ugly exchange, and we all (including Harrison) kept our cool, but it was uncomfortably tense.

But I can assure you that the one definite outcome of his approaching us in the manner he did (and which was tactically a mistake on his part) is that (1) he conveyed to us that our numbers rattled him and (2) that he poured gasoline on the fire in the bellies of all of us to show up the next time with each of us bringing two or three sympathetic friends and colleagues in tow.

Had he just left us alone, we may have been just deflated by having made the trip only to be dismayed by the procedural delay. But instead he made our trip seem meaningful at the same time that he essentially challenged us to gird up for a fight. Rest assured, we'll be ready. He had to deal with about 40 of us last Thursday occupying half of the seats and one whole side of the hearing room. Next time, he better be ready to speak to a standing room only crowd of opponents.

Oh, by the way, he still hasn't responded to my email letter. If and when he does, rest assured that I'll let you know.

1 comment:

Ricardo said...

If I can, I will gladly be in that number. Let us know.

They would rather have illegals that can be taken advantage of than giving people who want to contribute and persue the American Dream a fair shake.