Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants corporations to know that he will do a lot to keep them happy -- but he won't back down when it comes to discriminating against gay and lesbian couples. If it’s a choice between keeping Louisiana "open for business" or further stripping LGBTQ people of equal access to public accommodations, he will not hesitate to choose the latter.
The Republican governor issued the threat on Thursday in an opinion piece for the New York Times, warning "the business community” to fall in line with him and other social conservatives and get behind the Marriage and Conscience Act, Louisiana’s proposed enhancement of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would further entrench anti-LGBTQ discrimination in state law.
Jindal’s op-ed is cartoonishly vile, but there is nothing shocking about the position he’s staked out. Jindal intends to remain resolute in his bigotry even as more of the nation embraces equal marriage -- or at least begrudgingly concedes that they’re losing the argument. This is old news. Add that to the fact that is is already perfectly legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in Louisiana, and Jindal's "bold" stance looks even more unhinged.
There is very little threatening the the right to discrimination in his state, but Jindal is still “holding firm,” he writes:
In Indiana and Arkansas, large corporations recently joined left-wing activists to bully elected officials into backing away from strong protections for religious liberty. It was disappointing to see conservative leaders so hastily retreat on legislation that would simply allow for an individual or business to claim a right to free exercise of religion in a court of law. [...]
As the fight for religious liberty moves to Louisiana, I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state: Save your breath.
Jindal’s bigotry is not new, but the timing of his corporate tough talk is interesting for a few reasons, and not just because he is rumored to be angling for a 2016 presidential run. Jindal’s op-ed was published less than two weeks after he told state legislators that he wanted to rein in “corporate welfare” by going after certain refundable tax credits.
This is a small but nonetheless significant change in tone for Jindal, since it was just two years ago that he proposed abolishing the state’s corporate income tax (as well as the personal income tax, which worked out so well in Kansas) and has spent much of his tenure as governor taking his cues from Grover Norquist.
“If companies are getting checks from the taxpayer as opposed to paying taxes, then that is government spending that needs to be examined and reduced,” he said earlier this month. “It would be wrong for us to impose cuts to higher education, in order to protect this corporate welfare.”
So Jindal's big ask of these corporations is that they stand shoulder to shoulder with him in discriminating against LGBTQ people at the same time he is threatening to target (even if minimally) their tax goodies. He wants companies to embrace homophobia as a brand while he cuts their welfare checks. It's an interesting request, to say the least.
More from his Times piece:
Some corporations have already contacted me and asked me to oppose this law. I am certain that other companies, under pressure from radical liberals, will do the same. They are free to voice their opinions, but they will not deter me. [...]
If we, as conservatives, are to succeed in advancing the cause of freedom and free enterprise, the business community must stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for religious liberty. The left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom are the same ones who seek to tax and regulate businesses out of existence. The same people who think that profit making is vulgar believe that religiosity is folly. The fight against this misguided, government-dictating ideology is one fight, not two. Conservative leaders cannot sit idly by and allow large corporations to rip our coalition in half.
The company Jindal is referring to here is IBM, which wrote to his administration earlier this month objecting to the Marriage and Conscience Act. According to the statement from senior state executive James M. Driesse, “IBM has made significant investments in Louisiana including most recently a technology services delivery center in Baton Rouge, creating new jobs for Louisiana workers. We located the center in Baton Rouge because we believe Louisiana has great talent and would continue to be a rich source of such talent.”
That sounds plenty altruistic, but it's not the full story. The reality is that Louisiana has actually made significant investments in IBM, as has Baton Rouge. The complex where IBM set up shop was funded with $30.5 million from the state and local government, according to a report from the Advocate. The public also subsidized its hiring, recruitment and relocation costs to the tune of $1.5 million.
A state audit released in 2014 found that Louisiana “gave away” 55 percent of its corporate tax revenues, while higher education, retirement and essential services ran on fumes. The state gave up about $3 billion in taxes to attract companies to Louisiana, according to a report from Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.
“I’m not the policy guy, but you need to understand the full impact of what we are doing,” he told the Advocate.
IBM can talk a good game about its corporate values, but the same lawmakers who support policies that subsidize corporations at the expense of education, healthcare and infrastructure also back the kind of blatant anti-LGBTQ discrimination that can make those same corporations a little nervous from a brand standpoint. (It might make us feel good -- and even apply useful political pressure -- when companies take a stand against explicit bigotry, but let's not get ahead of ourselves about corporations as a force for justice.)
Jindal, it seems, wants these corporations to acknowledge the relationship between bigotry and unfettered capitalism:
Those who believe in freedom must stick together: If it’s not freedom for all, it’s not freedom at all. This strategy requires populist social conservatives to ally with the business community on economic matters and corporate titans to side with social conservatives on cultural matters. This is the grand bargain that makes freedom’s defense possible.
This is not the grand bargain that makes freedom’s defense possible, this is the grand bargain that makes corporations very wealthy and marginalizes the rights of LGBTQ citizens. Jindal is pulling a bizarre political stunt to remind voters of his anti-LGBTQ bona fides, but his op-ed is also a necessary reminder of how corporations taking selective public positions against LGBTQ discrimination aren't really fighting for justice. They are fighting for their bottom line, even if it sometimes looks like progress.