Editor’s note: This is a guest column by Michael Beyer, a 22-year-old LSU student and a senior majoring in political science. Beyer, who recently received the prestigious Truman Fellowship, is a regular opinion columnist with The Daily Reveille, LSU’s student-run newspaper, and has become well-known throughout the state for his advocacy.
Earlier today, The Daily Reveille published Beyer’s column but, within minutes, decided to scrub it from their website for reasons that I still cannot fathom.
I asked Beyer if he would be willing to share his piece here on CenLamar, and he graciously agreed. I think it’s a compelling story that needs to be told, and I commend him for his courage and his willingness to speak truth to power.
I sought comment from State Rep. Neil Abramson, and thus far, he has refused to respond.
Every signature on the recall petition for State Rep. Neil Abramson (D- New Orleans) is deserved. He has misused his office to benefit himself.
By abandoning his party and the overwhelming majority of his constituents in the service of large corporations, Abramson lost sight of who he truly represents. On Jan. 11, Rep. Neil Abramson sabotaged both his party and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ chance at restoring Louisiana by crossing party lines and voting for Rep. Taylor Barras (R- New Iberia) for Speaker of the House.
According to The Advocate, Abramson was “the only one of the House’s 42 Democrats to back Barras.” The spirit of bipartisanship could have moved Abramson to vote for a Republican Speaker, though that’s highly unlikely.
It is more likely Abramson was a key part of the Republican plot to thwart Edwards’ effort to have a Democratic House Speaker.
The Advocate reported Rep. Clay Schexnayder, a Republican, nominated Abramson but incorrectly reported Abramson received the Republican’s vote. In fact, as The Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue noted on Twitter, Rep. Schexnayder didn’t even wind up supporting Abramson’s bid for Speaker. Either way, Abramson only decided to be bipartisan once he lost his own bid for Speaker.
This isn’t the first time this wealthy corporate lawyer bucked party lines at his district’s expense. Rep. Abramson serves as the Chairman for the House Civil Law and Procedure committee, an unusual position for any Democrat to hold. Usually, a Republican House Speaker and a Republican Governor wouldn’t assign a committee chairmanship to a Democrat, but they made an exception for their friend.
With a Democratic Governor, Rep. Abramson’s vote will hold more weight, but I wouldn’t count on him to support meaningful, progressive legislation. Abramson, perhaps not coincidentally, is absent every time the heat is on the legislature. On the 2013 scorecard for the socially conservative Louisiana Family Forum, he was absent for 9 out of 10 of the votes. In 2012, he was absent for 5 out of 10 votes. In 2011, he was absent for 4 out of 10 of the votes.
On issues from abortion to LGBT rights, Abramson is absent or at odds with his constituents. However, there is one issue where he shines: supporting big oil.
According to Daily Kos Elections, 67.6% of his district voted for President Obama in 2012. Supporting banner Democratic and progressive causes and issues should be easy for Abramson under these conditions. LGBT job protections (specifically the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA), raising the minimum wage, Medicaid expansion, and voting for a Democratic speaker are politically easy votes for Abramson. More importantly, these issues are supported by the overwhelming majority of the people he was elected to represent.
But there is always an excuse for Abramson. Recently, his wife Kim took to Twitter to argue with me over her husband’s pitiful record. Here is our full interaction.
Because she didn’t like my characterization of her husband, Kim Abramson, a lawyer, emailed Jerry Ceppos, the dean of LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, and called the editor-in-chief of LSU’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Reveille, claiming she sought to “politely correct me” and reported my “harassment” to Twitter.
In “politely correcting me,” Mrs. Abramson called me a liar, told me to “get a life,” and attempted to get me fired me from my job as an opinion columnist for The Daily Reveille.
Here is the email Mrs. Abramson sent to the Dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication on Jan. 14:
Dean Ceppos –
Would you please call me at your earliest convenience. Both my husband and I are being harassed by Michael Beyer of LSU Reveille. I would think as a journalist he would try to research what the truth was first before having a knee jerk reaction and viciously attacking a State Representative. When I politely tried to correct him, he then attacked me. I’ve reported his harassment to Twitter and to his editor in chief at LSU Reveille, but Deanna never called me back. Below is an example of his tweets, and there is much more. I can’t imagine this behavior is allowed on behalf of the LSU Reveille.
Please call me as soon as you can at [redacted].
Abramson doesn’t work for those in his district, but he certainly works on behalf of the American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC). Some of America’s largest corporations fund this secretive group to undermine workers’ and injured parties’ rights.
ALEC decides what model bills are needed in each state in secret, closed door meetings. These bills range from the economy and the environment to transportation and immigration. One of their most notorious bills is the “stand your ground” law, which made George Zimmerman’s defense for killing an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, much easier.
ALEC drafts these bills and then hands them to legislators to introduce in various states. Legislators are rewarded with campaign donations from some of the top corporations who sponsor ALEC. These bills have one thing in common: They overwhelmingly tilt the scales toward corporations and the powerful who want zero liability for their actions.
Abramson has introduced ALEC bills in the state Legislature at least twice. In 2012, for example, Neil Abramson introduced House Bill 477, which looks a lot like ALEC’s “Asbestos and Silica Claims Priorities Act.” Many corporations do not like paying for asbestos claims in poorly-regulated factories, so this bill limits the damages against corporations for asbestos in their building.
Then, in 2014, Abramson introduced HB 606, which looks a lot like ALEC’s “Admissibility in Civil Actions of Nonuse of a Seat Belt Act.” This bill aims to reduce the damage a person can seek in an auto accident by blaming the victim for not wearing a seat belt.
Abramson benefits from these bills both as a state legislator and as an entrepreneur. Abramson is a shareholder in Liskow & Lewis, a law firm representing oil and gas companies, with BP, Shell and Exxon-Mobil as some of its biggest clients.
Environmental groups called for Abramson to recuse himself from voting on several bills because of his clear conflict of interest. In an ethics complaint filed against Abramson in 2012, Attorney Don Carmouche alleged he “personally authored five bills aimed at benefiting Liskow & Lewis and its primary clients, Exxon and BP.” In a separate interview, Carmouche labeled Abramson “the frontman for big oil.”
Not only does Abramson, allegedly, personally benefit from authoring these bills, he also raises cash for his re-election bids. One of the groups who donated at least $1 million dollars to ALEC is Koch Industries, who rewarded Abramson with a $1,000 campaign donation to aide his 2015 re-election effort.
While Abramson is busy ensuring handouts to big oil, he neglects every district waiting for an oil company to clean up the damage from an oil spill. Meanwhile, Abramson can rest comfortably knowing his clients and campaign contributors don’t have to pay for the damage.
This isn’t the first time Abramson has been accused of using his office to benefit his friends. According to WDSU 6 News, Abramson’s wife serves on several Junior League of Greater New Orleans committees and the group received $400,000 from the state in 2013, despite the fact that the organization maintained a $2 million endowment. “They will say there is nothing unethical, and that might be true,” C.B. Forgotston, the recently deceased and prominent political commentator, said at the time. “But it’s just wrong.”
It must be nice to receive state money during a budget crisis to support your wife’s charity work. For Abramson, it is just one of the many perks of being a state legislator.
Hopefully, voters demand Rep. Abramson’s recall. He already abandoned them long ago. A progressive successor could not come soon enough.
Until then, Abramson will continue to use the power and influence of his seat to benefit his firm’s clients over his constituents.