AUDIO: Kip Holden’s Race-Baiting Quip About Independent School Districts

This isn’t exactly a bombshell, and it’s questionable whether you’d call it a gaffe in any particular sense.

But Monday night, at a mayoral debate in Scotlandville, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden took a rather irritating cheap shot at his Republican challenger Mike Walker by lumping him in with what he called segregationists who want to shut schools down. Holden was referring to the proponents of the Southeast Baton Rouge Independent School District, the “breakaway” district which fell a step short of creation at this year’s legislative session…

This came during a debate in which Holden attacked Walker using racial innuendo by asking him how many times he’s been to North Baton Rouge, which is more predominantly black than the southeastern part of the parish where Walker makes his home. Walker also took a hit for his rather ill-advised idea to set up a “misdemeanor jail,” which would reel in and stow away scofflaws who don’t pay traffic tickets and such. As the Baton Rouge Advocate reported

Holden, who is seeking his third term as mayor-president, said the misdemeanor jail wastes law enforcement officers time with things like parking tickets and expired licenses plates.

“Pay your parking ticket,” Holden warned the audience.““Because if this regime gets in, I can tell you you’re going to be locked up for just about anything. They don’t look at the law.”

Myers, who said he thinks there are “too many laws” on the books, said many of the 160,000 misdemeanor warrants are “a bunch of bologna.””

Myers is defending himself in misdemeanor prosecution for renting a home to three unrelated students, which is a violation of city-parish ordinances.

“There’s too many laws,” Myers said. “Put the criminals in jail.”

A Southern student asked Walker if his misdemeanor jail would unfairly target working-class black people and other minorities.

Walker said the majority of people do not go to jail because they pay their fines.

But the ISD issue, which Holden shot off at the very end of the debate as a “parting question,” seems to have raised some hackles well beyond Walker’s camp.

Local Schools for Local Children, the organization which pushed the breakaway school district in the spring, was incensed. Lionel Rainey III, a spokesman for the group, put out a rather stiff challenge to Holden in response…

Mayor Holden’s comments regarding the proposed South East Baton Rouge Independent School District were perplexing, unnecessarily inflammatory and disappointing.

Of particular concern was his characterization of the ISD’s proponents as “segregationists” given that the school age population of the proposed district is only 40 percent white and 56 percent African-American. Does his characterization of the proponents of the ISD in Southeast Baton Rouge also apply to the ISD’s in Central, or Zachary, where students of all races have benefited from the creation of two of the state’s best school systems?

Mayor Holden further alleged that if the Southeast ISD is created that it would result in schools being shut down. Which schools are those? Can he name any?

Upon any legitimate review of the comments in question, we believe an explanation – if not an apology – is warranted.

Other than the fact the debate was in Scotlandville and the mayor was playing to the crowd, one wonders what Holden sought to accomplish by throwing that bomb. Whatever opinion one might have of the Southeast ISD as an idea, it’s hard to see the people pushing it as segregationists. The fact is, in a parish where the population is roughly 50-50 black to white, the East Baton Rouge school population is 89 percent black. You can’t get much more segregated than that, can you?

And experience doesn’t show that schools would be “shut down” as a result of a breakaway school district. They might well be shut down regardless; or at least taken over as charters by the state on account of their abject failure to date. But there are already three ISD’s in the parish now, two of which are among the top five school districts in the state – and while Zachary and Central are comprised of some decent neighborhoods, they aren’t exactly hifalutin. All three of those ISD’s spend less money per student than does the East Baton Rouge Parish system, and it’s anticipated the Southeast ISD would present a similar circumstance.

Besides, Holden isn’t the schools superintendent or even on the school board. Neither is Walker. Why is he taking shots at Walker on an issue out of his purview?

It’s not a game-changer, and it doesn’t make Holden Al Sharpton or anything. But it’s irritating, and it’s dishonest, and it’s demagogic. And it’s an underhanded comeback to Walker’s best zinger of the night, in which he responded to Holden’s accusations that he never sets foot in North Baton Rouge by hitting him on his record of performance for the folks in Scotlandville…

Walker countered that Holden has done nothing to help the north Baton Rouge economy.

“If the mayor has done so much for you, then why do you have to go to Baker to get your groceries?””Walker asked to applause, noting the lack of grocery stores in the area.

Holden’s record indicates nothing in eight years that contributes to the improvement of education in East Baton Rouge Parish, just like the economy of North Baton Rouge hasn’t improved in his two terms in office – and inside the city limits unemployment was 9.2 percent in July…

Most people think Holden will have the votes to beat Walker in the primary on Nov. 6, but that’s not a sure thing. If Walker can find a way to keep Holden from hitting the 50 percent mark in that race, the December runoff could go differently with a non-Obama turnout model taking hold.

And that might be why Holden was in Scotlandville last night in front of a mostly-black crowd pressing the “racist” button with both thumbs.

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