All four of the candidates for mayor-president in East Baton Rouge Parish were on hand for WAFB-TV’s debate (which didn’t actually air on WAFB; politics might be important and all, but not enough to pre-empt NCIS, so the debate was relegated to the non-HD sister station), and the fur flew to a large extent.
But outside of the two-term incumbent Kip Holden, who clearly lost the debate, there was no particular standout between the Republican standard-bearer Mike Walker and the two independents, Steve Myers and Gordon Mese.
Video of the debate from the Channel 9 website follows, in two parts.
(Link in case Part 2 won’t load)
1. The largest question about this race is whether Walker, Myers and Mese can combine for a majority of the vote and thus force a runoff, because Holden’s best shot at an electoral win will come on Nov. 6 when Barack Obama is also on the ballot. A December runoff without Obama and a lower turnout more than likely produces a win for the challenger. And that challenger, should there be a runoff, will almost assuredly be Walker.
Which is why Mese ended the debate with a closing speech saying that Walker can’t galvanize the anti-Holden vote and as such can’t beat Holden, and offered up the grand finale of demanding that Walker exit the race so as to allow Mese a chance to pick up that standard. Which was a nice move for a hopeless candidate attempting to generate headlines, but hardly a serious statement.
2. Myers didn’t engage in such wild histrionics; rather, he presented himself as the candidate in the race who actually cares about civil liberties and limited government and scored points along those lines as the only candidate who came out against red-light cameras; the others endorsed them as a safety feature, and Holden went so far as to say they don’t exist as a money-maker for the parish (what a shameless lie that was; those cameras turn a million-dollar yearly profit!). Myers also harped on his major reason as a landowner and real estate investor for being in this race; the “outdated” city ordinances that restrict unrelated people from living together in much of the parish.
Rhetorically, he actually may have won the debate. Politically, his emphasis was on issues which were largely esoteric and won’t resonate.
3. Walker continues to tout the idea of a “misdemeanor jail,” in which law enforcement officers fan out all over the parish and drag away traffic scofflaws and others with outstanding warrants to spend a night in the hoosegow as penance for not paying fines. It was done for a couple of weeks last year and again this summer, and despite the obnoxious nature of that idea it apparently was a financial success and has even been touted as a panacea for crime – since all the real criminals usually have some sort of outstanding misdemeanor warrant.
We absolutely hate this idea, because if it were to be installed as a permanent feature in Baton Rouge the enforcement of it would be a nightmare. If you prioritize the enforcement by hauling away all the outstanding criminal misdemeanor warrants, your targets will be so overwhelmingly African-American that the NAACP and ACLU will scream to the high heavens and force an alternative strategy. And that will necessitate a broader enforcement, meaning virtually anybody who missed a court date or forgot to pay a traffic ticket could be subjected to arrest.
By pushing this as a good idea Walker is setting himself up as Charles Durning’s immortal Col. Earhart from Mel Brooks’ To Be Or Not To Be, and it’s usually not a great idea to invite yourself to be caricatured.
That said, Walker did manage to get his licks in. Perhaps his best moment was when he mentioned that he’s happy to drive himself to work every day and doesn’t require a police security detail or a limo driver, a quality dig at the chauffeured Holden.
4. Holden’s performance was atrocious. He offered no justification for a third term in office other than to attempt to make the case that things in Baton Rouge aren’t so bad and besides none of the policies which aren’t working can be changed; either because of this state law or that bureaucratic hurdle or those mess boys who ate the strawberries. The public schools in town are just fine, the idea of merging the two dyspeptic law enforcement agencies in town is unworkable, sending the SWAT team to squire Louis Farrakhan around southeast Louisiana was a blameless exercise of our tax dollars and Walker is being divisive to question it…nothing is Kip’s fault and there are no solutions to be had for any of the problems which continually get worse in town. A less-inspiring performance by an incumbent in a debate would be difficult to recall.
His closing statement exemplified the political face-plant. Rather than mount a defense of his record after eight years in office, all he had was a stream-of-consciousness gripe at Walker…
“There is no track record,” Holden said of Walker. “After 12 years, all you’ve heard is criticism, criticism, criticism. No answers, no solutions, no nothing. He hasn’t brought one job to Baton Rouge,” Holden said. The mayor said crime is not “out of control” in the parish. “Crime can be managed.”
Baton Rouge’s murder rate per capita is substantially worse than Chicago’s, but “crime can be managed?”
Holden’s basic message to the people of Baton Rouge is the one Bobby Knight got himself in so much trouble over – “relax and enjoy it.”
The schools suck? Relax and enjoy it. I’ll stand in the way of breakaway school districts and throw hurdles in the formation of charter schools.
Crime is at an unacceptable level? Relax and enjoy it. I offer nothing in the way of solutions, and I’ll belittle any solutions others might offer.
Traffic is lousy? Relax and enjoy it. I’ve built roads. So what if there’s no major improvement? What do you want, leadership on something like a loop around Baton Rouge?
My tax to support the failed bus system has turned out to be a bomb? Relax and enjoy it. Everything is on the up-and-up there, and I couldn’t possibly have been wrong to support that boondoggle.
And on, and on. The arrogance of that show was astonishing. But since the debate was buried on what is basically a cable-access channel, perhaps Holden can escape accountability for his bad performance.
The election is just seven days away. The pundits are split as to whether Holden can win outright next Tuesday. But even though none of the challengers scored a knockout, the mayor didn’t particularly help his cause tonight.