Sign of hope

Sign of hope

The slim defeat of proposals to expand the at-large membership of the boards governing the library system and BREC—adding specific representation for the cities of Baker, Central and Zachary—offers a glimmer of hope for the future of East Bato



Much of the post-election preening and analysis has spun around three topics: 1) the so-called mandate that is the double-header sweep of Bobby Jindal's overwhelming election against a hapless field as well as his getting off the endorsement schneid in Pujolsian proportions; 2) the humbling dethroning of David Vitter as a wannabe kingmaker; and 3) the remarkably sudden importance of BESE races and how Louisiana has become the Iowa of the school reform movement.



Largely escaping notice is that voters of East Baton Rouge Parish correctly opted for the greater good over parochial self-interest—albeit barely. The slim defeat of proposals to expand the at-large membership of the boards governing the library system and BREC—adding specific representation for the cities of Baker, Central and Zachary—offers a glimmer of hope for the future of East Baton Rouge.



A cursory glance at the results makes it hard to celebrate much other than the electorate's simple rejection of the Metro Council's effort to inject even more parochialism into a parish desperately needing a more holistic philosophy. The expansion of the Library Board of Control was rejected by a 54%-46% margin, while Councilman Scott Wilson's bid to expand BREC was shot down 52%-48%. Unlike the “coronation” of Jindal, who won with 66% of the vote against of field of nobodies, it would be fallacious to declare anything about the library and BREC votes to be a mandate.



Feeling better about where we might go from here as a parish comes only after taking a deeper look at the numbers.



Looking at the breakdown of votes by precinct, one factoid that's strikingly bizarre is the number of people in largely black north Baton Rouge who voted in favor of both proposals. In fact, a handful of north Baton Rouge precincts registered stronger percentage support than any single precinct within Baker, Central or Zachary. Which leads me to believe that either these folks did not understand passage would dilute their voices on the BREC and library boards, or they see something that expands government and they instinctively vote yes. Seriously, I'm open to hearing any other explanation.




What's encouraging is not only did one precinct in Zachary reject both proposals but also the greatest level of support for increased parochialism did not come from the cities of Baker, Central or Zachary. No doubt, people in those hamlets voted strongly in favor of the items, but more voters in those cities than one might expect cast their support behind continued at-large representation—including more than 40% in precincts voting at both Central Middle School and Central High.



Results like this, as well as the passage of the library tax proposal several years ago that gave birth to the downtown library controversy, indicate 1) voters parishwide generally approve of the way BREC and our library system operate, 2) it's dangerous to assume how someone will vote simply based on where he or she resides, and 3) the people of East Baton Rouge don't buy into the rhetoric spewed by the extremes of either party or the ranting of the vocal minority.



This should serve as a lesson for all of us. Defining the greater good is not always easy, but certainly it's not always just about downtown, just about Central or just about any other city or subdivision in East Baton Rouge.



People will almost assuredly point to the back-to-back defeats of Kip Holden's massive tax-bond-and-spend proposals as evidence to the contrary. Yet anyone who reasonably examines how those bond issues unfolded will conclude that while the rhetoric was about downtown, the underlying concern was Holden turning a deaf ear to the legitimate needs of constituents in the outlying areas of the parish.



BREC and the library system, which both have dedicated taxing districts, consistently find favor with the voters because each is viewed as doing a good job servicing the needs of the entire parish. Holden easily won passage for the Green Light Plan because it addressed critical road issues across all of East Baton Rouge. In each case, it's not simply dividing the money equally amongst all areas of the parish. Instead, it's fairly servicing the needs of all areas of the parish—an important distinction.




It's amazing how parochialism can be defeated—even by the smallest of margins—when everyone believes their voice is heard.



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