In striking a business arrangement with Donald Trump, maybe Baton Rouge and state officials considered the possibility that Trump would shoot off his mouth and spoil the deal.
There’s ample precedent, after all, for Trump making a fool of himself when he speaks. If the multimillionaire real estate developer and professional boor is going to be a part of Louisiana’s cultural economy, then maybe prepping for Trump eruptions should be included in the state’s disaster response plan, just like floods and hurricanes.
“Disaster” is perhaps not too strong a word for what’s happened to the Miss USA pageant, which will be staged in Baton Rouge on July 12, the second consecutive year that the contest has been held in the city. Trump owns the company that operates the event, and area officials offered the pageant some $545,000 in tax money this year, most of it from East Baton Rouge city-parish government, to bring the event to Louisiana. What officials hoped to buy with all that cash was a lot of attention for Baton Rouge and Louisiana, thanks to a national broadcast of the pageant.
But in announcing his presidential candidacy, which seemed more like an exercise in publicity than political engagement, Trump disparaged Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists, a jeremiad worthy of David Duke.
Understandably scandalized, both the Spanish language network Univision and NBC canceled plans to broadcast the pageant. Without that TV coverage, local taxpayers might end up subsidizing a pageant that gets less viewers than the latest cat video. That’s a sad development given all the hard work of many well-meaning officials and volunteers in hosting this event in Baton Rouge. The lack of a TV sponsor for the pageant is also a disappointment for the contestants who have spent so much effort to get this far.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who manages the state’s relatively small share of the incentive package, said the state won’t cough up its promised $65,000 in funding if the pageant isn’t broadcast. Whether Baton Rouge officials can or will rescind the hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax money they’ve promised to Trump is unclear at this point.
Local and state officials need to be aware not only of what they stand to gain, but what they stand to lose, when they lavish public resources on entertainment companies in hopes of luring them here. Such scrutiny hasn’t been evident in recent years, as leaders in local and state government stampeded over each other in the rush to attract film and television productions to the area.
Such generosity has made us an easy mark, we’re afraid, but we hope the Miss USA pageant’s troubles offer a cautionary lesson in the pitfalls of these public-private partnerships.
No one, especially taxpayers, should end up as a chump for Trump.