East Baton Rouge Parish will perhaps be home to two of the five most populated cities in Louisiana … maybe. There’s Baton Rouge, of course, which checks in second behind New Orleans, and after the Oct. 12 elections, go ahead and tentatively wedge St. George, with maybe some 85,000 residents, between Lafayette and Lake Charles at No. 5.
Noticed a little bet-hedging announcing the birth of this city, did ya’?
A caveat or two is pretty much what we do given the fractured nature of our fair parish, the vitriolic language that so casually gets hurled regarding St. George—and pretty much every other significant matter—as well as our unending love affair with lawsuits.
The people may speak at the ballot box, but that’s hardly the final word.
Those who demanded we respect the election day results on a controversial dedicated tax for the Council on Aging are the same folks now crying foul and working to overturn the election day results on the controversial incorporation of St. George. And yes, those who cried foul over the Council on Aging tax campaign are today declaring the unimpeachable sanctity of the victorious St. George vote.
We are BR!
Which explains the eclipsing of the St. George afterglow by the mayhem that is 1) a lawsuit-plotting cabal of trial attorneys and wealthy heavy hitters, 2) disgruntled would-be St. Georgeans desperately seeking to become disgruntled Baton Rougeans—despite not actually living within the city limits—and 3) a mayor who’s becoming increasingly militant in her tough-talk on the price of St. George independence.
Say what you want about the One Baton Rouge crowd, but they aren’t going gentle into that good night. Channeling their inner Dylan Thomas, they’ve got the “rage, rage” thing down cold.
Let’s set aside the pseudo-greater good argument against St. George—which wouldn’t be so pseudo if those making that case didn’t so selectively embrace the all-for-one concept of self-sacrifice.
What’s fascinating about the entire St. George affair is what drove this passion quest for independence. No doubt, the incorporation movement began out of a desire to launch an independent school district and the demand from north Baton Rouge state legislators, like then-state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, to first create a city. But honestly, this whole affair stopped being about schools the day Broome was sworn into office as mayor of Baton Rouge and president of East Baton Rouge Parish. Not because she is black, but because she’s fiscally pretty far left on the political spectrum.
There’s nothing wrong with that—unless you’re fiscally pretty far right.
Many in our community—especially the more zealous opponents of St. George—want to entirely frame the issue around race. About white parents, unable to afford tuition at a majority-white private school, not wanting their white children attending a public school where a majority of students are black children. About white Republican adults not wanting to be governed by a black Democratic mayor-president. About sales tax dollars generated by white consumers in the southeastern part of the parish being increasingly pumped into largely black north Baton Rouge.
Let’s not be naïve: Those ugly characterizations almost certainly apply to some who voted earlier this month for incorporation.
Yet talk all one wants about the racial divide in this parish—and people talk about it plenty—but St. George is as much about an increasingly frustrated middle class and our widening political ideology divide as anything else.
This may come as a shock to some of you, but East Baton Rouge is a decidedly left-leaning parish in a decidedly right-tilting state. And Red Stick is getting bluer by the election.
Where do you tend to find Republicans in this parish? In hamlets known as Zachary, Central and the once unincorporated part of the parish that now goes by St. George.
Regardless of how each came to life—Zachary has been around since 1889, Central was strong-armed by then-state Sen. Kip Holden and others to incorporate in 2005 to get an independent school district a year later, and the story is still being written on St. George—all have become magnets for middle-class families who overwhelmingly tend to vote Republican.
There are those who will argue that’s code for “white people,” but let’s also deal with these realities: 1) White Democrats—especially of the male variety—are near extinction in this parish once you get outside of the downtown, Mid City and LSU areas, and 2) there aren’t a huge number of middle-class black families choosing to live in Baton Rouge.
Black people with means are fleeing as well. There are those who are opting for the East Baton Rouge suburbs or neighboring Ascension and Livingston parishes, but most are leaving for cities in other states. Institutional racism may well be the cause, but don’t stick that exclusively on the white middle class. Far more of that responsibility goes to those who continue to financially benefit from the current political structure—including some who were quite vocal in their opposition to St. George.
I suspect history will show the 2016 police killing of Alton Sterling to be an irreversible turning point in Baton Rouge. For it was on that deadly July night that a growing, but largely silent, black population stood up and declared enough is enough. Their voices are now being heard clearly and, as importantly, that community is exercising its political muscle. And that heft embraces big government and tax-and-spend policies.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with that unless one happens to subscribe to the notions of small government and minimal taxation.
Which, in part, explains why the Metro Council essentially gets nothing done. Like the cities and parish each represents, the council is fractured. Not along racial lines—though a superficial look might appear that way—but along an ideological left-right split.
Which brings us back to St. George. Those who cast a vote favoring incorporation did so because a progressive mayor-president and the city that dominates the public-dollar spending is out of step with their view of government. So rather than fight the system, they decided to blow it up, creating a city just large enough to pretty much doom our current form of consolidated government to the scrap heap of obsolescence.
Feel free to disagree with their tactics, but such is life in a democracy.