The excitement of advocates for a proposed new city of St. George in East Baton Rouge Parish was obvious.
Twice, supporters defied much establishment opinion and official displeasure to run difficult petition drives, and then won with 54% of the vote Saturday in a redrawn version of the original 2015 map for the prospective city.
That level of community activism will now have to be sustained for St. George to make a go of it. There remain a number of legal and practical steps ahead before St. George's new government is created.
Those measures will take time — even if there are not legal challenges to the creation of the new city.
In the short term, once the result of Saturday’s referendum is final, the governor will appoint temporary leadership to work out the details of how St. George will operate. The interim leaders will work out financial terms for its separation from consolidated government.
No one who has watched the heated debate over the proposal can expect anything other than tough negotiations ahead.
Those might also be delayed by possible litigation. The terms of the separation caused a bitter debate in the Legislature, and a transition bill was ultimately vetoed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
St. George's opponents could file suit, challenging the new city’s viability. There is at least the possibility of a lawsuit in federal court over the racial implications of an overwhelmingly white city carved from consolidated government in a majority-minority parish.
Baton Rouge lawyer Mary Olive Pierson has made opposition to St. George a personal cause, so we do not doubt that if a plausible legal argument is available, it will be heard by a judge at some level, at some point.
We urged voters to reject the St. George proposal, a position shared by large employers in the area concerned about potential tax increases.
But now, the verdict of the people has been rendered. For critics, from Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome on down, the fact that this divorce was made possible by avoiding a vote of the entire parish is a big sticking point.
Still, St. George grassroots supporters played by the rules as they were written in gathering their signatures and winning the vote. So the standard for challenges to St. George has to be very high. The power of the ballot box rests at the heart of representative government, and the judgment of voters at the polls, after such a full debate, cannot lightly be set aside.