Long-simmering tensions surrounding the proposed city of St. George in East Baton Rouge Parish boiled over into the state Senate Wednesday, with the chair of the state Democratic party decrying the “racial implications” of the effort during debate over a proposal to create a transition district for the area.
State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans and head of the state’s Democrats, accused Republicans of trying to “blindside” Baton Rouge leaders with changes to a bill being considered on the Senate floor.
She also railed against the effort to create the city of St. George as “inherently wrong” and inefficient.
“It’ll be a God damn shame if this bill passes,” Peterson said.
The effort to create the city of St. George has been around in Baton Rouge for years but is expected to finally make it to the ballot for a vote this October. The movement is a divisive one in Baton Rouge, eliciting fierce debate in recent years. Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, a Republican candidate for governor, is one high-profile supporter of the movement.
The Senate later advanced the bill at issue, SB 229 by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, on a 24-11 vote. The measure would create a transition district if the effort to create the city of St. George is approved by voters. The district would be similar to the one used by Central when it incorporated, and would be used to transfer services between the city-parish and St. George in during the transition.
It would also require the city of St. George to assume its share of debt, estimated at about $100 million.
“Should it come to pass, you have almost 80,000 people who have no mechanism to stand their city up,” said state Sen. Bodi White, who brought the amendments to the bill.
White unsuccessfully ran for East Baton Rouge Mayor President against Sharon Weston Broome, who is also a former state senator.
Peterson said St. George is part of an ongoing effort to undermine the leadership of Broome, an African American woman, even after she passed a recent tax proposal for roads that helps the proposed area of St. George.
“There are some racial implications in this instrument,” Peterson said. “It is a hard fact. This is not my perspective, it is not my opinion, it is real.”
Claitor said after the vote he “definitely didn’t buy into or agree with the racial side” of Peterson’s comments, and said the measure simply provides for the transition if the effort is successful.
The proposal to incorporate the relatively wealthier, southeastern part of the parish will go before voters in October.
The same Senate committee that advanced Claitor’s bill last week also shot down a proposal by Baton Rouge Democratic Sen. Yvonne Colomb to allow all voters in the parish to decide on whether St. George becomes a city instead of only those in the proposed boundaries.
Backers of the St. George effort originally began their quest for an independent school district several years ago but were told by lawmakers they must first create a city. A previous attempt to do so failed in 2014, but was revived and is expected to be on the ballot this fall.