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Posts from the ‘Social Activism’ Category

I Was Smeared Online for Being Disabled: How the Internet Amplifies the Politics of Hate

My father was a big believer in making New Year’s resolutions. At the end of every year, he’d set audacious, nearly impossible goals for himself- writing a book, learning a foreign language, recording an album, running for political office, training for a marathon. On December 31st of every year, my father was the most ambitious man in America.

But he wasn’t delusional. Don’t get me wrong. He was perfectly capable of doing everything he aspired to do, and in fairness to him, he’d balance out his outsized resolutions with other, more manageable, and more pedestrian goals.

10535592_985195448291_4183952736902386221_oI think he just enjoyed the exercise of making a list of goals, even if some of them seemed way too lofty to achieve in a single year. It was both positive reinforcement and a way to hold himself accountable.

I may have inherited my father’s sense of ambition, but unlike him, I’ve never been keen on writing a list of New Year’s resolutions. This year, though, for the first time in my adult life, I decided to publicly resolve myself to do one thing. I had one and only one item on my list.

Two weeks after New Year’s Day, I wrote about it here on my website. Quoting from my post titled “My New Year’s Resolution: Repairing Broken Vessels”:

I made a decision, this year, to be a better and more forceful advocate for the physically, mentally, and developmentally disabled. Or, if you prefer, the physically, mentally, and developmentally challenged. Or, better yet, to paraphrase Steve Gleason, “the superhumans.”

Somehow, I’ve managed to carve out this little place for myself on the Internet, and for some reason, people actually pay attention to the things I say. If there is anything I can do to raise awareness, to educate the public and my neighbors, to advocate for the rights and the basic dignity and humanity of those who, too often, are ridiculed and patronized, and to help repair broken vessels, then I think I must.

Life is too short. No white flags.

I didn’t have any real plan on how I was going to become “a better and more forceful advocate” for the disabled; I only knew, in my gut, that it was something I needed to be.

I’ve spent the greater part of the last decade sharing my opinions on almost everything from local city council elections to creationism in the classroom to the legacy of slavery in the modern American South. And while I have written before about my personal experiences as someone who lives with a disability, almost everything I had ever written on the subject was reactive, not proactive. Usually, it was in response to something that a stranger had said about me on the Internet.

While I always aimed to tell a larger story about the struggle for disability rights in America, I constantly ran the risk of sounding whiny or too defensive. Folks who know me only through the Internet don’t know me for my disability; they know me for my writing and for my opinions on politics and policy, and that’s a good thing, of course. However, it also makes writing about my experience as a disabled American all the more difficult. Since I launched this website eight years ago, it’s been read more than 1.1 million times. No one comes here to read about disability rights. I’ve built my readership by almost exclusively writing about the circus of Louisiana politics.

There’s an adage that is often repeated in almost every college creative writing course in the country: “Write what you know.” I know Louisiana and its politics like the back of my hand, but I know what it is like to live with a disability even more. And for years, I stayed away from the subject. I recoiled when those with whom I disagreed politically would lampoon me for being disabled, as if my physical condition somehow rendered my political opinions less valid.

Over the last two or three years, however, I’ve grown more confident in sharing my personal experience and my perspective as someone who was born with a physical disability. I’ve learned to understand that by sharing my own voice, I can give voice to others who are far too often marginalized or dismissed entirely by a political and media establishment built on privilege and access to power. It may be the most important thing I can possibly do with the time that I have here on this planet.

Two weeks ago, I stepped onto an unfamiliar stage and into the world of Texas politics, and since then, I have learned more about how we as a society treat and perceive those with a physical disability than I’d learned in the entire time I’ve published this website.

On November 4th, Texas will either elect Greg Abbott, a Republican, or Wendy Davis, a Democrat, as its next governor. Both of them have compelling, remarkable stories. Davis went from being a single mother in a trailer to the hallowed halls of Harvard Law School, by sheer force of her own tenacity and smarts. Abbott was paralyzed in an accident when he was in his late 20s, but despite his injury, he has become one of the most successful politicians in Texas history, having been elected twice to the Texas State Supreme Court and three times as Texas Attorney General.

Indeed, Greg Abbott, arguably, is the most successful disabled political leader since FDR, but, ironically, he also has one of the worst records on disability rights in the entire country. After receiving a multi-million dollar settlement for his injury, Abbott spent the next 30 years of his career fighting against the rights of others from receiving the same type of justice. He championed a series of laws that would have made his own settlement illegal. He’s fought against attempts to make Texas comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He has been a stalwart opponent of the Affordable Care Act, a law that opens up health insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of Texans and guarantees that no one can be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

He may be disabled, but that doesn’t somehow mean that his record on the issue should be off-limits.

Three days before I sat in front of a sea of cameras at a campaign office in Fort Worth, Wendy Davis released a television commercial criticizing Abbott’s hypocrisy on disability and victim’s rights. Her commercial began with the stark, black and white image of an empty wheelchair, and although the commercial proceeded to describe several examples of Abbott’s abysmal record and his blatant hypocrisy, all everyone wanted to talk about was that wheelchair.

Greg Abbott has been elected statewide not once or twice but five times, but if you believed what many in the national media, including some who are considered reliably liberal, and the entire conservative blogosphere were reporting, you’d think that Wendy Davis was callously, recklessly, and cynically attacking a man just for being in a wheelchair. To me, the response to Davis’s ad didn’t just demonstrate how dumb and lazy the political commentariat is; it also revealed that many Americans are somehow more offended by the mere image of a wheelchair than a politician with a record of fighting against the rights of real human beings in wheelchairs.

Through a friend, I volunteered to speak at Wendy Davis’s press conference, and that is how I ended up in Fort Worth and in front of the bright lights.

I thought it was important to tell the public and the media that disabled Americans, people like me, weren’t offended by the image of a wheelchair. As a matter of fact, among folks who live with a physical disability, wheelchairs are hugely popular, and I’m not trying to be flippant. Wheelchairs are empowering. They save lives. The only people who are scared of wheelchairs are those who are scared of being disabled; that’s not a fear for those of us who are already disabled, even folks like me who only use a wheelchair occasionally.

The media had this one completely wrong.

I spoke for about two minutes about Abbott, his record, and why I was proud of Senator Davis for bringing this to light. I gave a couple of pertinent examples of Abbott’s hypocrisy on the issue. But I think most importantly, I was able to talk briefly about basic human empathy, the need to recognize your own privileges, and the importance helping those less fortunate with the chance to access the same opportunities that you may take for granted.

I wasn’t there to deconstruct a television commercial or explain to the media how their collective reaction to the image of a wheelchair revealed their own inherent biases against and uncomfortableness with the disabled.

I volunteered to speak because, to me, this was about ensuring that my three nieces live in a state that protects disabled children against unrelenting bullying and a state provides opportunities and access in education and the workforce for those who may think or move differently than everyone else. I was there because I strongly believe that every single American, regardless of their age or their income, should enjoy the benefits of the best medical care in the world and because I know, first-hand, that with the right doctors and the right care, a child who may have otherwise been imprisoned for life by his disability can become independent. I was there because the Americans with Disabilities Act isn’t a legal abstraction to me; it’s the reason I could receive a mainstream education in public schools as a kid, and it’s one of the reasons I’m able to attend law school. Elevators and ramps don’t build themselves, after all. I was there because I believe in a system of justice that values the rights of victims more than the profit margins of corporations.

Lamar and two strong Texan women, Wendy Davis on the left and Carol White on the right

Lamar and two strong Texan women, Wendy Davis on the left and Carol White on the right

I sat down during my remarks, because, as I later told The Houston Chronicle, I was worried that if I had stood, I may have fallen on camera. Ask anyone who knows me: I have terrible balance. After I wrapped up my speech, I nodded to a staffer to help me slide my chair over about three feet, so I could make room at the podium for the next speaker. It was something I had asked for in advance. The entire exchange took less than five seconds, but in those five seconds, I managed to become the headline.


Only minutes after Wendy Davis finished her speech and the event ended, dozens of conservative pundits had taken to social media, lambasting her for using me and the other disabled people who sat and stood by her at the event as “campaign props.” These were the same pundits who were outraged by the image of an empty wheelchair in a television commercial, as if it was an attack against Greg Abbott’s disability, and yet here they were, in full force, arguing that I was nothing more than an object, something to be trotted out on stage in a cynical and exploitative attempt at damage control.

About an hour later, a writer at the Washington Free Beacon uploaded the video clip of me being slid from the podium and blasted the Davis campaign for shamelessly “dragging a disabled man across the stage.” The video was picked up by a number of other conservative websites and bloggers, and within a day, it had been viewed more than 70,000 times.

It was nasty and hateful and dehumanizing, but I wasn’t going to bite my tongue. I sent out a tweet, to no one in particular: “I am a human being. Not a campaign prop. I volunteered to speak because Wendy Davis is right.” The next day, my tweet was the headline of an article in and was quoted in the pages of The New York Times. It was reassuring that most people recognized the characterization of me as a “prop” who was “shamelessly dragged” as a smear and a stark example of the cruelty and ignorance of a self-entitled, self-ordained political class who chews and spits up anyone and everyone who challenges the narrative they’re selling.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 6.39.33 AMI was not invented in a laboratory to help Wendy Davis or any other politician. Once I spoke up publicly, both online and in an op-ed published in The Houston Chronicle, I think it became much more difficult to argue, with a straight face, that I was just some poor, helpless handicapped guy who was embarrassed by Wendy Davis. Even the Washington Free Beacon updated its article about me being “dragged across the stage” to report that, in fact, their report was entirely concocted and incorrect.

However, not everyone was as decent or as honest. Not everyone accepted my certification of my own humanity and agency as valid. Some accused me of ginning up my disability for the cameras. A blogger on the LSU forum Tiger Droppings suggested, bizarrely, that I was a “fake paraplegic.”

And perhaps I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was, considering his long record of hate-mongering and bigotry in Louisiana, but Scott McKay, the blogger responsible for the vomit published on The Hayride, was more awful to me and to the disability rights community in general than anyone else in the country, which is saying a lot.

Scott McKay of the Hayride

Scott McKay of the Hayride

Scott’s website is relatively well-known in Louisiana, and although he passes himself off as a serious journalist, it appears- based on the e-mails that he sends out at least once a week- that he is mainly in the business of selling gold, doomsday preparation supplies, and other sundry wares that appeal to the most paranoid fringe of society.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 7.03.16 AM

Suffice it to say, I’ve never been a fan of his work or his enterprise, and I’ve made it clear to him repeatedly that I think much of what he contributes to our shared political discourse is bigoted and ignorant. Not surprisingly, he’s not a fan of mine either.

On the afternoon that I spoke at Wendy Davis’s press conference, Scott ran with this headline and image:

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 9.41.59 PM

That’s me behind the microphone. In his post, he even embedded the video clip of me being assisted, but because he has never met me in real life, he apparently had no clue that the “crippled” person he was ridiculing was none other than his Louisiana liberal nemesis.

Once another blogger and I pointed this out to him on Twitter, he spent the next couple of days spilling several hundred words about me. I imagine this was just too good to be true for him; his worlds were colliding. Most of what he wrote is hackneyed drivel and not worth any of our time, but there is at least one teachable moment. In his post titled “Lamar White, Noted Wendy Davis Campaign Prop, Now Hurls Accusations” (I’d called him a bigot for, well, see the image above), Scott writes (bold mine):

First, if Lamar couldn’t see that he wasn’t doing his candidate a whole lot of good by having a handler drag his chair away from a microphone it doesn’t particularly speak for his political, or theatrical, acumen. There were lots of ways to handle his exit from center stage. He could have walked off with someone offering him a shoulder to lean on and prevent a fall, he could have used a wheelchair, he could have had a podium of his own set up slightly to the center so that it wouldn’t have been necessary to move him at all in the middle of the press event, he could have had a Segway, or he could have even been on a chair with rollers. Any of those options would have looked less “awkward,” which is another way to say demeaning, than what actually happened.

So if this was his idea of stagecraft, let’s just say he’s not good at it. If you’re going to be a prop to show that Wendy Davis isn’t bigoted against handicapped people despite the ad she just made, you really don’t want to put yourself in position to make it look like her campaign can’t handle its disabled prop-people with any degree of dignity.

So this is a criticism of White that isn’t bigoted about his disability; it’s a criticism of the fact he made his candidate look like a fool – and a fool insensitive to disabled people at that, which defeated the entire purpose of his showing up to defend her. The fact that he’s now lashing out at anyone who commented on the spectacle is evidence that he may understand this.

I decided to quote generously from Scott’s “analysis,” not only because he’s a fellow Louisiana boy but also because he gets almost everything perfectly, comically wrong.

I’m going to tackle each of these accusations; I think they’re all instructive.

But first here’s the video clip he uses (compare it with the other one on top):

Regarding the idea that I lacked political and theatrical acumen: I delivered a two minute speech which was generally well-received, and it took no more than three seconds for me to be assisted to the side of the podium. There were nearly a hundred people at the event that morning, including several major television and newspaper journalists. None of them – in fact no one at all- asked me or anyone else about being slid on stage or the “theatrics” of a press conference that featured a man with cerebral palsy, a girl with cerebral palsy, at least two disabled veterans, and at least three people in wheelchairs. No one was offended or disrespected. No one felt undignified.

Scott McKay watched a ten second video clip and decided that I was a spectacle, that I was handled awkwardly, that I made the candidate look like a fool, and that I looked awkward in that ephemeral clip of me being slid.

I never signed up to perform in a play or to sing or to dance. I volunteered to speak at a press conference on disability rights, and because I have a disability, I suppose there was a risk involved: No amount of make-up could conceal the fact that I walk and sit and move differently. On camera, my disability is noticeable.

Scott suggested to his readers a range of other options he thought would be acceptable for me. But besides the ridiculous notion of me jumping onto a Segway (it’s as if he just “googled” “mobility device”), which, in my hands, would have led to numerous injuries, everything else Scott suggested is about making me seem less disabled to the cameras than I actually am. He called it “stagecraft,” and while he blamed the Davis campaign for the awkwardness of my movements, the truth is that he was just uncomfortable watching a disabled person receiving the exact type of compassionate assistance he had requested.

There is also an inherent presumption that Scott knows more about my disability and limitations than I do. I never, not for a single second, thought that I looked like a fool, because that’s just the way I move. So, put another way, as hard as Scott may have tried to blame Wendy Davis for making me look like a fool, he is actually just arguing that I look like a fool because of my disability. That, I’m afraid, is ignorant and bigoted.

And if the way I moved or the way I was assisted makes anyone uncomfortable, I suggest they reconsider their own biases against those with disabilities.

My disability has made some folks uncomfortable for my entire life. But that is not my problem.

I’ve learned how to negotiate my own life very well, and the advice on stagecraft and theatrical acumen is both patronizing, ignorant, and bigoted; it can only come from someone who is so detached from the realities faced by tens of thousands of people in Louisiana and even more in Texas that live with a disability, someone who cares more about theater than leadership and policy, someone who views politics as entertainment, not an exercise in forming a better and more perfect democracy.

But I’m not going to let it bother me.

I still have that one New Year’s resolution, and right now, I am fairly close to checking it off my list.


Righteous and Holy

Cross-posted from The Ind:


Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

Photo by Robin May
RubinEd 140925 6515 RMay
District Judge Edward Rubin

For a few brief seconds on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014, for the first time ever, same-sex marriage was legal in Louisiana, specifically Acadia, Lafayette, and Vermilion parishes. But before any vows could be exchanged and any certificates could be issued, a suspensive appeal was granted.

Three days before, Judge Edward Rubin of the 15th Judicial District Court became the first sitting judge in Louisiana history to rule, definitively, that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Only 19 days earlier, another Louisiana judge, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman of New Orleans, also made history. In upholding Louisiana’s ban, Judge Feldman broke a streak of more than 20 consecutive decisions from all over the country striking down bans against same-sex marriage.

Although Feldman’s opinion was the subject of intense national media attention (largely because it was such an outlier), Rubin’s decision, at least within the context of Louisiana jurisprudence, will likely be remembered as much more historically significant.

But before I explain why, please allow me to digress.

Despite what the punchlines of far too many jokes may suggest, you cannot marry your first cousin in Louisiana, Arkansas or even Mississippi. But if you really want to marry your first cousin and have your marriage legally recognized in Louisiana, there’s no reason to panic: All you need to do is get hitched in Alabama or, to be fair, New York, California, Florida, Hawaii, or one of the 18 other states across the country that recognize incestuous marriages between first cousins.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could even tie the knot in Iran, because Louisiana also recognizes incestuous marriages between first cousins entered into in the Islamic Republic of Iran. I’m not kidding.

In 2008, Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeal recognized the validity of an Iranian marriage, performed in 1976, between first cousins, even though the husband had moved to the United States only a year later and even though he had subsequently married and divorced an American woman (apparently to help him expedite his citizenship status) and then, decades later, remarried another woman from Baton Rouge. The court explains (emphasis added):

Based upon the law of Louisiana, first cousins may legally cohabitate, have intimate relations, and even produce children; however, they are merely prohibited from regularizing their union by marriage. This disparity would tend to negate any contention that Louisiana has a strong public policy against marriages between first cousins, since it is in conflict with this state’s policy to legally solidify such unions for the good of society at large and for the benefit of any potential posterity. (Ghassemi v. Ghassemi, 998 So. 2d 731, 748)

It is also worth noting that in Louisiana and throughout the entire country, two serial killers behind bars on death row still maintain a “fundamental right” to marry one another, as long as they are not of the same sex.

Why do we recognize that it’s important to “legally solidify” unions between first cousins from Iran who haven’t even been together for nearly 40 years and unions between murderers and rapists and violent domestic abusers? How are those unions “for the good of society at large and the benefit of any potential prosperity”? What does this really say about the “sanctity of marriage”?

During the last three years, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Attorney General Buddy Caldwell have spent hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars and countless hours in order to prevent gay and lesbian American citizens from accessing the fruits and benefits of a right so fundamental to our nation that it can still be enjoyed by prisoners stripped of virtually every other right. Their arguments are specious and easily discounted by the law and by reality.

Marriage, they suggest in one breath, is about incentivizing the traditional nuclear family and ensuring children remained tethered to their biological parents. This, of course, belies the fact that Louisiana already recognizes marriages between cousins, common law marriages, and marriages between people who are elderly, infertile or simply uninterested in ever having children.

In the next breath, they argue that marriage is a state’s rights issue via the 10th Amendment, and that any federal intrusion on a state’s sovereign ability to regulate marriage is thereby unconstitutional. After speaking with Special Assistant Attorney General Kyle Duncan, the D.C.-based attorney hired by Caldwell at $385 an hour to defend Louisiana’s prohibition on same-sex marriage and who had also been hired by Caldwell in 2004 to promote Louisiana’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, I think it’s safe to say that they think this is their strongest argument. But it’s a house of cards.

Remember, there’s still a Constitution and 25 other amendments (26 if you count the 18th Amendment, which enforced the prohibition of alcohol, though Louisiana never counted that one anyway). States can’t constrict or constrain any of the protections and fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution; they can only expand and enhance those protections and fundamental rights.

In our conversation and in the briefs he filed with Judge Feldman’s and Judge Rubin’s courts, Duncan repeatedly quoted from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in United States v. Windsor, the 2013 case that struck down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.

Angela Costanza and Chasity Brewer, the couple whose custody
case led to Judge Ed Rubin’s historic decision clearing the state’s
ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional

That may seem paradoxical to some: How could you possibly use a Supreme Court opinion striking down federal discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in order to justify state discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation? The short answer is: You probably can’t, but you can try.

Duncan, writing on behalf of the state of Louisiana, argues that Windsor actually reaffirmed the supremacy of state regulation of marriage. In Windsor, an elderly widow who legally married her wife in Canada and had their marriage recognized by the state of New York was denied more than $300,000 in federal survivor’s benefits, because the Defense of Marriage Act prohibited same-sex couples from accessing or receiving benefits.

At the risk of boring you with the minutia, I think this is important, because it’s the argument our taxpayer dollars are funding: The Supreme Court, Duncan suggests, was less concerned about striking down a federal law that discriminated against gay and lesbian couples than it was with deferring to a state law protecting those couples. Therefore, according to his logic, even though Windsor represented the biggest victory for gay and lesbian rights in American history, and even though it obliterated a federal law that had been passed by the Congress and signed by the president, it actually was a green light for states to pass laws banning same-sex marriages and same-sex adoptions.

So far, only one judge in the entire country has agreed with Duncan’s logic: Feldman in New Orleans.

It is easy for some to become more focused on theory than practice. And in practice, these bans are most assuredly discriminatory; they most certainly are based on animus toward gay and lesbian Americans; they tangibly hurt families and children; they perpetuate a culture of bigotry and bullying and blind hatred.

As a heterosexual white male from an upper middle class family, I don’t need to have a dog in this fight, but I feel obligated because of people like Chasity and Angela.

Ten years ago, Chasity Brewer realized a dream for her and her partner Angela Costanza. Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, Chasity gave birth to the couple’s first child, a healthy little baby boy. Like most spouses, Angela was right by Chasity’s side the entire time. And even though Chasity was the “biological mother,” Angela was actually the first to hold their baby boy in her arms.

Four years later and only three months after California’s Proposition 22 (the precursor to Proposition 8) was found to be unconstitutional, Chasity and Angela were finally able to make it official: They got properly, legally married.

With their little boy in tow, Chasity and Angela decided to settle for good in Lafayette. And although they likely knew their marriage would not be recognized in Louisiana, as it would have been if they were opposite sex first cousins, they hoped, at the very least, that their family would be dignified and recognized. Angela and Chasity filed for an intrafamily adoption, so that Angela would be legally recognized as a parent of their son, in the same way that countless stepfathers and stepmothers have been granted adoption rights for decades.

They hired a smart, young attorney, Josh Guillory, an Iraqi War veteran who graduated at the top of his class in law school. Louisiana is a small state, and as it turns out, unbeknownst to me when I began writing this article, he happens to be the same Josh Guillory I knew as a classmate in high school. I call him up and congratulate him on his victory, and just as he was at Alexandria Senior High, Josh is gracious and humble. I ask him what attracted him to take up this case.

“I’m a conservative,” he says, more than once. “And I’m a member of the NRA, even though I don’t own any guns right now,” he laughs. For Josh, this case has nothing to do with partisan politics; it is about ensuring equal protection under the law.

Josh submitted a trove of documents to the trial court, including “an Authentic Act of Consent to Adoption by the biological mother, Chasity Brewer, a criminal records check from the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, the recommendations and records check for any validated complaints of child abuse or neglect from the Department of Child and Family Services and the Child Welfare State Central Registry Check.” Everything turned up clean. His i’s and j’s were dotted, and the t’s were crossed. Judge Rubin granted adoption rights to Angela, and for the first time ever, their rights as an intact and loving family unit, including their now 10-year-old son who had known them since birth as his parents, had been recognized in Louisiana.

However, the office of Attorney General Caldwell and, particularly, Special Assistant Attorney General Duncan, who had only just been hired back, were not pleased with the decision, and they tried their best to convince the court that these two loving, committed, legally married women shouldn’t be allowed an intrafamily adoption of the boy they raised together since his birth.

Perhaps unwittingly, Caldwell and Duncan, in attempting to invalidate the adoption of a 10-year-old boy by a parent who had known him, cared for him and loved him since the very moment of his birth, turned this case into a much broader set of issues about the constitutionality of laws that prohibit same-sex marriages in Louisiana.

I am well aware that Louisiana is, at least for now, a reliably conservative state, and I fully appreciate the influence of the religious right in our politics. But what are we doing here?

We’re paying a lawyer in Washington, D.C., $385 an hour to write creative essays styled as legal briefs about why two loving parents shouldn’t be allowed to adopt their own child. We’re denying decent, hardworking, patriotic and compassionate Americans — our neighbors — the basic dignity and the fundamental right of marriage. Louisiana taxpayers don’t spend money attempting to prevent serial killers from marrying one another, and we don’t spend money to stop 18-year-old girls from marrying predatory 65-year-old creeps.

I spent a great deal of my childhood in the classrooms and the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Alexandria. I taught Sunday School when I was a teenager, sang in the youth choir and, when I was 17, I delivered a sermon from the pulpit; the topic was grace. I earned a degree in religious studies when I was an undergraduate at Rice University. I don’t know if any of this really qualifies me to opine on religion, but I know this: There is nothing righteous or holy about Bobby Jindal and Buddy Caldwell’s relentless persecution of our LGBT brothers and sisters.

That was an awfully long digression. My apologies.

So, why will Judge Rubin’s decision be remembered as historically significant? Because it was righteous and holy.

Lamar White Jr. is a native of Alexandria and author of, an award-winning blog about Louisiana politics. He is in his final year of law school, concentrating on constitutional law and public policy, at the SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas, where he lives with his golden retriever, Lucy Ana.

Sen. Landrieu: Koch Brothers Have Spent $7.5M In TV Ads in Louisiana, But Not “More Than A Week Here In Their Entire Lives”

In 2007, in his second attempt at the Governor’s Mansion, Congressman Bobby Jindal raised more campaign money than any candidate for state office in Louisiana history: $11 million. At the time, it was considered a staggering amount of money, made even more staggering when you considered what his closest opponents spent out of their own pockets. Walter Boasso, who finished in second place with 18% of the vote, put up $5 million, and John Georges, who received 14% of the vote, loaned his campaign $10 million. “The race was one of the highest-spending in Louisiana history,” The Washington Post reported, and that may have been an understatement.

Consider this: In 1991, when Edwin Edwards faced David Duke in a run-off, the total amount of money raised and spent in that campaign was less than $4 million, and it was considered the most important gubernatorial election in the country. Donations poured in for both candidates from all across the country.

Suffice it to say, things have changed, and the money spent in the gubernatorial elections in 1991 and even in 2007 pale in comparison to the money currently being spent in Louisiana this year in the race for the United States Senate. According to the most recent reporting, which is now months old, Mary Landrieu has raised more than $14 million, and her main challenger, Bill Cassidy, has raised at least $8.6 million. But that only tells part of the story.

Charles and David Koch, two of the world’s wealthiest men, have already spent nearly as much in the Senate campaign in Louisiana as Bill Cassidy, the candidate they ostensibly support, has raised in total. As of a month ago, the Koch brothers, through their affiliated advocacy groups, had paid for more than 4,900 ads in Louisiana. To be sure, those advocacy groups aren’t required by law to disclose their donors, but as The Times-Picayune reports, “the Koch brothers have made little secret that they support the groups with donations.” Back in February, the Koch brothers hired actors to star in a commercial attacking Senator Landrieu’s support of the Affordable Care Act. Quoting from a report by ThinkProgress:

The Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity is out with a new ad featuring several people — who appear to be Louisiana residents — receiving notices in the mail that their insurance plans have been cancelled thanks to Obamacare. “Send Senator Landrieu a message: Obamacare is hurting Louisiana families,” the ad concludes.

But the people featured in the hard-hitting ad aren’t actually Louisiana residents at all. In reality, they’re paid actors hired by the right-wing group.

“Hiring professional actors to impersonate Louisiana families is low even for the billionaire Koch brothers,” the senator’s campaign manager, Adam Sullivan, told ABC News.

The Koch brothers aren’t the only outsiders spending money on advertising. Two days ago, the National Rifle Association launched a provocative television commercial warning Louisiana voters that Mary Landrieu wanted to take their guns away. The NRA’s timing couldn’t have been more off. The ad debuted on the same day that Landrieu and Senator Joe Manchin campaigned together at a shooting range in Maurice, Louisiana. But why does the NRA believe Landrieu wants to take your guns away? According to Politifact, the NRA based its argument on the fact that Landrieu voted to confirm Sonya Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and favored background checks at gun shows, a claim so egregious that it earned a “Pants on Fire” rating.

Notably, this is the second time in only a week that a commercial attacking Sen. Landrieu has been rated as categorically false by an objective third-party fact-checker. Bill Cassidy’s recent ad suggesting that Landrieu voted in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants was thoroughly debunked by The Washington PostCassidy, the Post reported, put “his credibility on the line” by so brazenly lying about Landrieu’s record. Months ago, the Post also debunked an ad attacking Landrieu, calling it “nonsensical.” “Television stations in Louisiana should be ashamed of falling for such an obvious gambit,” the paper argued.

False and misleading campaign attack ads aren’t exactly a new thing, but because of the proliferation of outside money from anonymous donors in our elections, it’s become increasingly difficult to hold anyone accountable and responsible for lying to voters and manipulating the facts. And this is troubling, because it distorts our political process and prevents the public from ever having a sensible debate and conversation on the real issues. It drowns out the voices of actual voters and allows billionaire brothers from Kansas and ideologues from Washington D.C. to hijack an election that, presumably, should be about who is best equipped to represent the people of Louisiana.

When I spoke with Sen. Landrieu on Tuesday, I asked her about the corrupting influence of money in politics, prompting her with a question about the controversial 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Here is an excerpt of the transcript (emphasis mine):

Lamar: Maybe we can turn to Citizens United, if you don’t mind.

Landrieu: Go ahead.

Lamar: Recently, a couple of days ago, Justice Ginsburg called Citizens United the worst case of the current Court. Do you agree with that assessment? Would you support a Constitutional amendment to limit the influence of money in politics?

Landrieu: I agree that it is a very bad decision, and it’s very hurtful, I believe, to our democratic process. Because what the Court did is say that corporations, like people, should be able to contribute unlimited and undisclosed money to affect the public debate. While individuals have a free right to speech and unlimited speech, it’s clearly arguable if corporations are entitled to the same privilege. And what that does is it skews things.

Assuming corporations have a great deal of money- even small corporations are usually wealthier than individuals, have a net worth higher than individuals- it denies ‘one man one vote,’ ‘one man one voice,’ ‘one woman one vote,’ ‘one woman one voice.’

Now, you know, I’m on the same side as John McCain. There are Republicans and Democrats that feel strongly about this. This is not necessarily a straight party line issue.

But people in this campaign are seeing the results of this out-of-control spending.

The Koch brothers have spent $7.5 million just in television ads in Louisiana, and I don’t know if they’ve even spent more than a week here in their entire lives.

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