NEW ORLEANS — State Representative Ray Garofalo is under fire for comments he made in a House committee meeting this week when he talked about slavery in an exchange with New Orleans State Representative Stephanie Hilferty.
She pressed the Republican lawmaker from Chalmette to explain how his bill that would ban the teaching of systemic racism known as “critical race theory” would work practically in the classroom.
Their exchange went like this:
Garofalo: If you’re having a discussion on whatever the case may be, slavery, then you can talk about everything dealing with slavery, the good, the bad, the ugly.
Hillferty: There’s no good to slavery though.
Garofalo: Whatever the case may be. You’re right, you’re right. I didn’t mean to imply that.
Garofalo further clarified his point in an interview with WWL-TV.
He stressed there is nothing good about slavery.
“Absolutely not," Garofalo said. “I can’t be any more unequivocal about that as I was on the video.”
The Louisiana Black Legislative Caucus is now calling for Garofalo to be removed as chairman of the House Education Committee.
Caucus Chair Rep. Ted James from Baton Rouge said he doesn’t think Garofalo is a racist, but he believes Garofalo’s comments were racially divisive.
“I’m here because of the blood, sweat and tears of my ancestors,” James said. “He doesn’t understand that and it was clear from the fact that he could even mistakenly say there is something good about slavery that honestly, he needs to do some self-searching and I’m here to help him.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards weighed in on the issue, saying that the incident is "egregious enough to warrant his removal," but noting that he's not the one who makes that decision.
"I think it is obvious and incontrovertible that he made some very unfortunate statements that have caused a significant number of his colleagues to lose confidence in him," Gov. Edwards said.
WWL-TV asked Garofalo if he regretted using the phrase “the good, the bad and the ugly” in reference to slavery.
“What I did, I did. I haven’t really thought about it in those terms,” Garofalo said. “It’s very clear from the video that I was using that as a generic term. There’s no question about it.”
Garofalo’s bill would prohibit the teaching that the United States or Louisiana is “systematically racist or sexist."
He modeled the language on bills from Florida and Iowa.
“For him to ignore the advice of others in leadership and continue to bring that type of divisive rhetoric to this capitol, when we’re trying to tackle other issues was disappointing,” James said.
Garofalo said his bill has nothing to do with slavery.
“The goal of the bill and the intent of the bill is to provide a discrimination-free environment for everyone that’s involved in the education system in Louisiana,” Garofalo said.
Garofalo’s bill is now voluntarily deferred in committee. He said he plans to rework the measure based on concerns then decide whether to bring it back up this session.