Rep. Garofalo says his comments about slavery were taken out of context; black lawmakers want him to lose leadership post

Updated: Apr. 29, 2021 at 7:22 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - State Rep. Raymond Garofalo, R-Chalmette, says his comments this week at the state capitol about slavery were taken out of context and he says now his family is being targeted on social media. But, the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus wants Garofalo removed as chairman of the House Education Committee over words he spoke during a committee hearing this week.

Garofalo has also been thrust into national headlines over the controversy.

During a question-and-answer exchange between Garofalo and fellow Republican Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, on his legislation HB 564, Garofalo used the words, “The good, the bad, the ugly“ when talking about what students should hear about slavery as it relates to his bill. During the meeting and in the days since critics have said there was nothing good about the nation’s slavery era.

Below is a portion of the exchange between Garofalo and Hilferty over his bill that would prohibit public schools from teaching what Garofalo calls “divisive concepts” on race and sexism or using materials that suggest the U.S. is a racist nation.

“Part three of this, prohibits discussion of divisive concepts as part of a larger course of academic instruction what does that mean?” asked Hilferty.

Garofalo responded, “Exactly what it says, I mean the words on the page are.”

Hilferty then asked, ”But what is a larger course of academic instruction?”

Garofalo replied, ”If you’re teaching, if you’re having a discussion on whatever the case may be on slavery, then you can talk about everything dealing with slavery, the good, the bad, the ugly.”

Hilferty then said, “There’s no good to slavery, though.”

And Garofalo amended his statement.

“Well, then whatever the case may be. You’re right, you’re right. I didn’t mean to imply that, and I don’t believe that, and I know that, that’s the case,” Garofalo stated.

Garofalo says his bill is designed to ensure education is an anti-discrimination environment.

“We’re just trying to provide a discrimination-free environment for every Louisiana student and employee and to me, there is no room for critical race theory in the classroom,” said Garofalo.

But Rep. Ted James, a Democrat from Baton who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus says Garofalo should be stripped of his Education Committee leadership.

“The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus we asked Speaker [Clay] Schexnayder to remove him as chair. On yesterday we heard that he was going to go to the floor and offer an apology. We know from the moment that he took the microphone he said that I’m only here because the Speaker told me,” said James.

Garofalo said his words are not viewed in an accurate context.

“When I said the good, the bad, and the ugly I was using that as a generic term, not as I’m saying this is good or bad or ugly, it’s a generic term to say you teach whatever’s there, if it’s good you teach it if it’s bad you teach it; if it’s ugly you teach it, but you give the students all perspectives and when you do that you’re giving them information so that they can make an informed decision based on factual information and become critical thinkers,” said Garofalo.

The New Orleans city council sent Garofalo a letter in which it says his comment suggesting there was some “good” about slavery is “reprehensible. Further, the council wrote to Garofalo,

“If you feel that there is “good” in slavery, you should resign immediately.”

But in a letter in response to the council, Garofalo wrote back and directed his letter to Council President Helena Moreno who served in the state legislature.

“Quite frankly I am disappointed that a person with your legislative and life experience would respond to and embrace unfounded accusations against anyone without investigating the facts surrounding said accusations. Your letter significantly adds to the misinformation campaign that is occurring and distracts from the primary focus of the bill – to provide a discrimination-free learning environment that provides equal opportunity for all students, regardless of race or background,” Garofalo wrote.

Later in his interview with FOX 8, he commented further.

“I thought it was a little bit disingenuous for the city council of New Orleans to send me a letter that was obviously taken out of context,” said Garofalo.

He was asked whether he intended to resign from the committee chairmanship.

“Look, all chairmen serve at the will of the Speaker, so that’s the decision that the Speaker will make. I don’t intend to resign. I believe that I’m a lot of good work,” said Garofalo.

James said he and others had discussions with Garofalo before the meeting about concerns over the legislation.

“Multiple conversations from leadership to other committee chairs, to lobbyists to those in the education community for several reasons,” James stated.

He thinks the legislation will hurt not only the state’s reputation but potentially government-funded universities.

“I think it hurts recruiting; if I’m a student looking to attend Louisiana State University or another higher education institution in Louisiana, I might have a second choice knowing that the leader of the House Education Committee thinks that there was something good about slavery,” said James.

FOX 8 asked Garofalo about some people who think he should apologize for his words.

“To the extent, I did anything that offended anyone, I don’t believe I did but I’m not in their shoes. I would definitely apologize for that because I don’t believe, not only do I not believe, I know that that was not my intent,” he said.

Garofalo says his family is being targeted online over the controversy. He was pressed to produce evidence during Tuesday’s meeting to back up his statement that educators and parents had complained to him over critical race theory being taught in some schools.

“What’s going on right now with me on the internet and you know the targets and the hateful and vile messages to my family’s Facebook pages and Twitter accounts is evidence that they’re probably correct. So, I’m not going to release any information and I can tell you that several people have contacted me and said hey, I have no problem with you releasing my information, so we’re starting to compile some of that,” said Garofalo.

He said he has not given up on his legislation but could not be certain it would be brought back up this legislative session.

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