BATON ROUGE—A dispute over public records laws spilled onto the floor of the state House on Tuesday, with lawmakers blasting the actions of the state GOP chairman and at least one Republican legislator asking him to resign.
The comments were in response to Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere's wide-ranging public records request of Democratic Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, the number two ranking member of the House.
Lawmakers called the request a personal attack on Peterson for criticizing Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. Both Democrats and Republicans streamed to the floor to defend Peterson, and GOP lawmakers said they had nothing to do with Villere's request.
Rep. Ernest Wooton went even further.
"I am going to ask Mr. Villere to stand up, be a man and resign his position as chairman of the Republican Party," said Wooton, R-Belle Chasse. "I am a Republican. He does not represent me."
Villere didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.
At issue is a public records request that Villere filed after debate on a bill that would have opened the records of Jindal's office to public scrutiny.
The Republican governor's administration helped kill the bill in a House committee, with Jindal's top lawyer saying it was too broad and could harm the free exchange of ideas in the governor's office.
During the debate over the bill, Peterson suggested Jindal was being hypocritical about transparency. And she invited scrutiny of her own records. "You can have everything. Request it. Please," she said.
Days later, Villere took her up on the offer, lodging a formal public records request with Peterson asking for schedule records, travel records and "a copy of each and every e-mail sent to or received from your legislative e-mail account" - stretching back to 1999.
"I'm surprised at Rep. Peterson's anger considering she offered us 'everything' and said we should request it. She even said please," Aaron Baer, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Louisiana said in a statement. "We expect her to waive any fees associated with this because it was done at her invitation."
Peterson said the records request was a political tactic designed to intimidate lawmakers who criticize the governor.
"I'm not going to permit Mr. Villere's tactics or the Republican Party of Louisiana's tactics to divert me from higher education or health care or transparency," she said. "If you thought you would intimidate me, you were wrong."
After Peterson spoke Tuesday, the chairs of the House Republican and Democratic caucuses - Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, and Rep. Jane Smith, R-Bossier City - stood together on the House floor and pledged to continue a working relationship that they also described as a good friendship.
"Our delegation here in the House works very hard to try to work with everyone that's in this building, whether they be Democrat, independent or Republican," Smith said. "Unfortunately, sometimes things that are out of our control happen."
Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, a member of the Republican Party's state central committee, called on Villere to make "a public apology for the way that was done."
"We need people like Karen Peterson who stand up for the right things," Harrison said.
House Clerk Alfred "Butch" Speer responded Tuesday to Villere's public records request, providing Peterson's travel records and travel costs. In a letter to Villere, Speer said the schedule and e-mail requests will take longer to compile because they are on back up tapes and computer servers. He said the staff will begin the project, which he estimated would take more than 3,700 hours, after the regular legislative session ends in June.