Want a free ad promoting the creation of St. George, the proposed breakaway city from Baton Rouge? Interested in telling the world that Caddo Parish has better economic development prospects than East Baton Rouge Parish? Some on Baton Rouge’s Metro Council seem happy to oblige.
After the death of East Baton Rouge Parish Rouge Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso, the 11 other members had to choose a replacement within 10 days or that decision would fall to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. Without Amoroso, a white Republican, the council had six Republicans, all white, and five Democrats, all black. That means blacks had 42 percent of the full Council’s votes; parish voting rolls contain 43 percent black registrants.
Council tradition has been to appoint the spouse, if willing, of the deceased member to serve until an election to fill the unexpired term. An appointment occurs with a minimum of seven votes.
Denise Amoroso, his widow, expressed willingness to serve. However, all Democrats on the Council except for Tara Wicker declared they would abstain when voting on Amoroso’s nomination. With a choice unmade, the deadline would go unmet, and they hoped Edwards would appoint a black Democrat to create a 6-6 balance.
But not having Wicker on board foiled the plan. Prior to the vote, some council Democrats and audience members berated Wicker and the Republicans for following the tradition, even calling the action by white members racist.
Baton Rouge’s crime rate remains unacceptably high. It has one of the highest sales tax rates of any larger city in the country — which Democratic Mayor Sharon Weston Broome wants to push $1 billion higher to spend on transportation — and the city continues its recovery from racial tensions in 2016 that led to the wounding and murdering of law enforcement officers. And yet the burning issue some on the council must debate is the allegedly racist appointment of a person who undoubtedly represents her district’s interests?
In the parish’s unincorporated area where organizers wish to persuade residents to form a new municipal government, who in his right mind would want to remain under the rule of a body that behaves like this? Why would businesses wish to operate in a parish whose leaders prefer to manufacture controversy over tackling its real problems?
Maybe they should look to Caddo Parish. Earlier this year, longtime School Board member Larry Ramsey died after a bout with cancer. The CPSB has a tradition where members facing such bad fortune may request someone, if willing, to fill the spot until the next election.
More than three years before, the board followed this custom when a black Democrat had died by appointing another black Democrat. Ramsey, a white Republican, had suggested for his replacement former long-serving Caddo Parish Commissioner David Cox, another white Republican.
After Ramsey’s death, the board had five whites, all but one a Republican, and six black Democrats. Yet instead of the customary arrangement, the black Democrats nominated and voted to seat Durwood Hendricks, a black Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Shreveport City Council in 2014 against a Republican in a majority-white district. Cox lost on the 6-5 vote.
At no time did those in the minority suggest or attempt any tactics to prevent the vote. Nor did they or anyone in the audience engage in counterproductive, distasteful histrionics.
Among mid-sized Southern cities with state capitals and major universities, since 1980 the population of Austin has grown 275 percent, Nashville 145 percent, and Baton Rouge 3 percent. It’s hard to see that trend of stagnation change so long as the attitude behind the divisive antics of five Metro Council members and the citizens they egged on prevails.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about it at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.