Christian Gray's Letter to the Editor on the State Government Session
Our class experience culminated in a visit to the Louisiana State Capitol Building and Governor's Mansion as our year in Leadership Tangipahoa drew to a close.
The day began with turtle law. We found ourselves in the midst of a committee hearing pertaining to a bill set forth by Representative Steve Pugh. The bill sought to update the language of current turtle law to a contemporary and efficient nomenclature, as well as to remove the chain of custody form for farm-raised and pet turtles. The current language and its encumbering standards, carried over from the 1980s, have proved difficult for local turtle farmers in establishing a domestic industry. The standards call for intricate equipment and methods of care which are no longer feasible. The challenge for our farmers is in meeting the requirements of our own rule while also adhering to the regulations of external companies and their markets.
Favorable reports toward the bill were made by Senators Thompson and Riser and Representative Thomas. Upon approval, Rep. Pugh shewed his lightheartedness by jokingly offering his appreciation to Sen. Thompson by means of a campaign contribution, his humor met with laughs from the room. Our class filed out behind Rep. Pugh, resolving to spend the majority of our visit in his company.
A vacant committee room was our next destination for an explanation of committee operations from our host. The purpose of committees, he made plain, was to kill bills due to the sheer number of proposals. He elaborated that most of the 'real work' is performed outside of the committee; much of the discussion occurs in the dining room. With that in mind, Rep. Pugh noted the 'tremendous effect' that public sentiment can have over these meetings because it comes from the hearts of the people. During a hearing, individuals from the public may be present to observe or to fill out an affidavit to be submitted to the Sergeant-at-Arms in order to make comments on the floor. The committee proceedings are streamed and archived via the Internet, however Rep. Pugh warns interested citizens to 'watch social media,' recommending they 'decipher the reality from information [available online].'
The tour continued with the House Chamber. Rising like a personal landmark from the mass of desks and sheets of paper, a visitor may spot Rep. Pugh's Ponchatoula strawberry flag. The third-term representative escorted us onto the floor and down to the "well," the podium at which bills are presented. From the House, we made our way to the Senate Chamber, while Rep. Pugh shared history with our class. The capitol building's interior is comprised from marble across the world, although much of the material hails from Mount Vesuvius. Due to its composition, this marble will erode with age and require reconstruction. As we passed the door of the Governor's Office, we paused to examine the two pillars with scored shafts, said to be the result of the assassination of Governor Huey P. Long in 1935. Rep. Pugh mentioned a local legend that claims protection from a gunshot for anyone who places their finger inside the fracture. There was also word of a secret switch beneath the governor's desk that was utilized between the 1930s and '60s to alter voting outcomes on the floor in the event of an unfavorable decision. The switch has since been decommissioned.
After exploring many of the capitol's halls, elevators, and corridors, we were granted access to Governor John Bel Edwards' Office, where he was preparing for a conference on the current criminal justice reform proposal over lunch. The Amite native said of his first term, '[It has been] a challenge in sixteen months,' admitting he had 'assumed it would be a little easier.' Gov. Edwards recognizes the troubling situation at hand, with concern for recent protests and shootings in the state and many parishes considered financial disasters hanging overhead. After meeting the governor, we departed for our next site, the Governor's Mansion.
Under the governorship of Jimmie Davis, the building was constructed in 1963 over a drained bayou that once flowed into the Mississippi River. The home's design drew influence from Antebellum-era architecture, by then a form fading from practice, although it was decided during construction that the inclusion of a veranda on the second-floor would have been informal. The mansion was also built with company in mind, as the first-floor houses several sets of doors to allow guests easy passage inside and out. Upon entrance, a painted canvas of Louisiana character and symbolism adorns every portion of the foyer walls. The mural was composed by Latvian artist Auseklis Ozols after being commissioned by Governor Mike Foster and his wife, Alice, in the year 2000.
Our tour through the premises ended with a remarkable lunch in the dining room, where we were joined by Gov. Edwards' Chief of Staff, Mark Cooper, and Senator Bodi White. Years of experience in the field of emergency management and preparedness, in addition to his working knowledge of state affairs as former Gov. Bobby Jindal's secretary of defense, suggest an insightful contribution from Cooper to the presiding administration. Representing the vast reaches of District 6 since 2012, following his service in the House for eight years, Sen. White expressed a resourceful approach to homeland security by seeking partnership with other states' departments this upcoming year. Executive Director of Tangi Tourism, Carla Tate, also made an appearance to see us off on our final outing as a class. She generously provided our meal and travel for the day. As we finished dessert, we said our goodbyes to the mansion staff, true practitioners of southern hospitality, and boarded the bus to revisit the capitol building.
Our return to the capitol occasioned a detour to the observation deck to view the expanse of Baton Rouge from above. After a moment of leisure, we had the opportunity to observe a Senate chamber meeting from the gallery. The proceeding began with prayer and followed with an introduction to New Orleans-born keyboardist PJ Morton, who then performed and sang an arrangement of our national anthem as an honoree of Louisiana Music Industry Day at the State Capitol. We were soon driving back to the Tangipahoa Tourism Center in Hammond.
The journey home saw a reflection over the vital knowledge gained at our state capitol and within Leadership Tangipahoa. Before our stop, our class elected Casie Navarre as our 2017 Class President. Our facilitator, Nick Gagliano, handed each of us invitations to graduation, our final assignment. A good year it has been. For more information on how you can become part of this great experience go to www.leadershiptangi.org