By Justin DiCharia
BATON ROUGE – The Christian Right looms in the Louisiana Senate Education Committee, and if the committee’s biblical bloc doesn’t change over the next three years, hot-button issues involving sex education, increased regulation of charter or home schooling, and evolution will likely receive a proper Christian burial.
In the past general session, any bill that smelled of secularism died in that committee on a 4-to-2 vote with freshman Shreveport Sen. John Milkovich, the unconventional Democrat who is vice chairman of the committee, leading inquisitors in a crusade against what he believes is the “separation of faith from the education of children.”
The Montana native, along with senators Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, and Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, killed bills that would have permitted federal sex surveys in high schools and a measure aimed at repealing an unconstitutional law mandating creationism and evolution be taught in tandem.
As for his opposition to the survey, Milkovich saw the fact that Louisiana was No. 1 in the nation in sexually transmitted diseases as a breakdown of America’s moral fiber, not the lack of sex education, as Rep. Pat Smith, the bill’s author and a fellow Democrat, believes.
In the committee’s other theological moment that attracted significant media coverage, Milkovich delivered the coup de grace to Republican Sen. Dan Claitor’s attempt to repeal Louisiana’s outdated creationism law, which had been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Milkovich posited to Claitor and the committee that while arguments may be made for the scientific evidence supporting evolution, archaeological findings have validated the story of Noah’s Ark and the instantaneous creation of Earth theory is supported by the science of heliocentric circles and rocks.
The 58-year-old Milkovich graduated from LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center after a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Montana. He and his wife, Carola, practice law in Shreveport and their daughter is heading to law school in North Carolina.
For Miklovich, answers to complex issues in a morally pluralistic society are as absolute as a biblical commandment or as unrelenting as the old-line Protestant work ethic.
“There is a cultural war of ideas going on in the U.S. and in Louisiana,” said Milkovich in interviews with the Manship School News Service. “It’s important to recognize our fundamental bedrock principles of Bible-based Christianity, our belief in hard work, and of people being the answers to problems, not always tax supported government programs.”
God’s watchdog, if you will.
Indeed, Milkovich longs for a return to the days when people felt “privileged” to work 16 to 18 hours a day, a time when they did not feel they were “victims.”
Asked about his voting record, arguably unusual for a Democrat, Milkovich says only that the truths contained in the Bible and the U.S. Constitution are more important than political party platforms.
Although he ran and lost a campaign for U.S. Congress in Louisiana’s Fourth District in 2008, his politics were good enough for his legislative district (DeSoto and parts of Caddo parishes) to elect him to a seat in the 39-member state Senate six months ago.
In a state with a pro-life Democratic governor, few pro-choice legislators and a contingent of fiscally conservative Democrats, the Louisiana Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans allows that her colleague isn’t that far out of the partisan box.
“We are a diverse party. We give our members the right to serve under a big tent. This isn’t the party of Donald Trump. This is the party of Hillary Clinton. We don’t discriminate.”
But while Petersen supports Clinton for president, Milkovich most certainly does not. He declined to say whether he would vote for the Republican candidate Trump.
If nothing, Milkovich seems to love everyone. When he isn’t smiling or wishing colleagues, lobbyists, reporters and strangers “a blessed day,” the senator is sitting cheerfully at his desk reading bills next up on the chamber’s agenda.
“(Milkovich) stands his ground and doesn’t budge, which is admirable, and he has contributed a great deal to the process,” Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, notes. “He has some bad hair days, but other than that…”
While the story has grown to partially apocryphal levels, Milkovich’s status as a Good Samaritan is underscored in a report that circulated in the Capitol earlier in the session that upon discovering a lost medicine pill bottle in The Barracks, where he and other lawmakers rent rooms during the session, he began knocking on doors in the middle of the night seeking the owner.
As the story goes, the Good Samaritan was met by a pistol-brandishing senatorial colleague, startled by the late-night wakeup call.
For his interview, Milkovich brought a packet of talking points, as well as personal legislative wins and losses, for the session.
Hours before any vote particularly important to him, Milkovich will be the only lawmaker on the floor handwriting a speech to deliver in favor or in opposition of a proposal, a passionate argument loaded with moral forethought and creative theories, if applicable, about the federal government.
Milkovich had 12 bills this past session that ranged from public record laws to court procedures to public contracts. Three have made it to the governor’s desk and into law, a 25 percent success rate compared to an average of 11 percent. But he reserves the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric for the bills of others.
Known by colleagues for his 20-minute soliloquys on federal intrusions and thorough invocations, Milkovich entered his freshman year with pro-life promises. He did not disappoint.
In the last four months, some of the strictest anti-abortion bills in the nation passed the Louisiana Legislature, albeit authored by others, and signed by the governor. In each case, Milkovich was at the Senate well to help orchestrate the outcome with unapologetic hyperbole. To-wit:
“God intended that the mother’s womb be the safest place for the unborn. Tragically in America, it has become the most dangerous place for the unborn.”
It was on the same Senate floor, following Milkovich’s comments on a bill outlawing abortion for genetic abnormalities, that fellow Democrat J.P. Morrell of New Orleans chastised Milkovich’s pro-life stance as hypocritical. Morell called out his colleague, pointing to an inconsistency in his pro-life talk of second chances while he opposed juvenile justice reform. Milkovich was the lone vote against the bill raised the age from 17 to 18 before a juvenile could be tried as an adult for most crimes.
“When your voting record reflects that you will not vote for the resources for pregnant mothers in this state or to give children the resources to succeed,” lectured Morrell, “you are ideologically not consistent, otherwise known by definition as a hypocrite.”
Morell later referred to Milkovich as a “special snowflake.” When told, the pro-life vice-chairman just smiled and offered a vintage Milkovichism:
“I came here not to represent lobbyists, government or political parties. I came here to represent working families. . . God bless.”