Louisiana Spotlight: Senate moves past expulsion, back to budget
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Senate side plot of Louisiana’s deficit-closing special session, whether to oust a senator from the chamber because of multiple domestic violence incidents, ended without the historic vote. And for senators, that’s just fine with them.
Troy Brown decided to resign from the Senate last week rather than go through the indignity of an expulsion hearing that appeared likely to conclude with him booted from his elected job, a vote that could have given him the ignoble distinction of being only the second senator to be removed that way.
Brown, a Democrat from Geismar, pleaded no contest twice over the past year to misdemeanor charges involving abuse against women. He served jail time last month.
The disciplinary effort had gotten messy, as Brown fought the expulsion attempts and senators grew angry and worried about the long-term precedent such a public feud would set. Even for a procedural hearing of the full Senate, meeting as a disciplinary committee, the chamber was packed with onlookers for such a rare occasion.
Now, with Brown gone, senators can get back to the less lurid, more mundane — but very necessary — job of balancing the state’s deficit-riddled state operating budget, determining how to close a $304 million gap before the short special session ends Wednesday.
As far as anyone in the Senate can recall, the only time senators voted to expel one of their own was in 1981, for a felony charge. Gaston Gerald was convicted in federal court of extortion and was unable to attend legislative meetings because he was in a Texas prison.
Citing Gerald’s expulsion was one of Brown’s chief arguments against ouster, suggesting it was too harsh a punishment since his own crimes were misdemeanors.
That didn’t seem to sway many of his colleagues.
“It’s not a question of a misdemeanor. It is a question of beating women multiple times,” said Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, sponsor of the expulsion effort.
Brown pleaded no contest in January to a misdemeanor charge of domestic abuse battery, arising from allegations he bit his wife’s arm. He pleaded no contest in September to a misdemeanor simple battery charge stemming from allegations he punched a girlfriend.
Calls came for Brown’s resignation from lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards. Senators tried to negotiate with Brown to step down — or agree to some other form of punishment, like suspension — to no avail. So, senators moved ahead with the expulsion effort.
Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, was disappointed it had to reach that point.
“It’s a serious matter, removing any person from the legislative body, and it’s something that you shouldn’t take lightly,” Alario said.
For the first days of the special session, Brown wouldn’t budge. He fought the action in court, but couldn’t persuade a judge to stall the proceedings.
He had only one public defender in the Senate, a domestic violence victim: Sen. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, who suggested suspension, rather than expulsion.
“I have been beaten and battered in a marriage a long time before I got out, but the Christian in me, I have a forgiving spirit. There’s no member in the Senate that’s perfect and that has not sinned,” Colomb said as expulsion proceedings moved forward.
“He’s done everything the court has demanded of him. He spent some time in jail. He’s gone through anger management,” she said.
When it became clear through procedural votes the expulsion likely would be successful, Brown gave in, announcing Thursday he was resigning, effective immediately. Colomb stood with him for the announcement.
Brown continued to suggest that senators’ disciplinary efforts had gone too far and that he’d been denied the opportunity to defend himself.
“It is readily apparent to me that a fair and impartial hearing before my peers will never transpire,” he said.
He said he was resigning “rather than cause further enormous expenditure of limited taxpayer resources and further division among my colleagues in a process which is already predetermined.”
Senators just seemed ready to move on, with Brown’s name quickly removed from the Senate website and the chamber.
Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.