From Thursday night’s St. George town hall meeting. The first 22 minutes contain speeches from Lionel Rainey, Norman Browning and Dustin Yates of the St. George organizing committee, plus Sen. Bodi White, who spearheaded the legislative effort to create an independent school district in the southeastern part of the parish, Bryant’s speech kicks in from there.
He had a full house of about 250 or so people at the Woodlawn Baptist Church rocking and rolling.
The St. George effort has been gaining in steam of late, and as it has it’s been picking up lots of questions.
The biggest one, naturally, is “who’s behind this thing?” In Baton Rouge, almost nothing is done without the support of one of the big names in town – whether that means a political figure, or some big political donor. That’s a long tradition in this town; you’ve got to get somebody who’s a big player on the scene to back your effort, whatever that might be, or else it isn’t going anywhere.
But that seems to be changing a bit. The best example of grassroots civic activism defeating the moneyed elite was the major failure of mayor Kip Holden’s Christmas-wish of public boondoggle projects in a bond-issue referendum back in 2009, in which the Baton Rouge Tea Party was outspent by a margin of $500,000 to $5,000 by the high-dollar crowd and the Baton Rouge Advocate backed the bond, and yet the little guys won a 65-35 victory.
Since then, the fires of civic activism in Baton Rouge have dimmed a bit, and the big boys at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation have mostly gotten what they wanted without an enormous amount of opposition – the effect of which on public perception being the return of the old perception that if some of the big boys aren’t with you on a particular project you want to accomplish, you’re not getting anywhere.
But there are no big boys involved in the St. George effort. There is no hidden hand behind this thing. It’s a committee of a PR guy, a fireman, a self-employed architect and a former pharmaceutical sales exec who’s now a startup entrepreneur and below them a bunch of volunteers. Outside of White there are no major political figures in Baton Rouge in open support, either.
They’ve raised next to zero money so far and yet they’ve collected 9,000 signatures out of the 18,000 they need.
This is an honest-to-goodness grassroots effort, and it’s likely to stay that way unless a FreedomWorks or Americans for Tax Reform or Americans For Prosperity gets involved with funding. Because most of the big-money players in town, even those who might look favorably on the idea of St. George in principle, are too invested in the status quo and the contracts and deals they have with it to support a change.
That’s what Bryant means when he talks about “titans” in his speech. There are no titans in the St. George movement. It’s the little guys revolting from the rule of the fatcats. Whether St. George is a good idea or not, that much is undeniable – and it’s one reason why the downtown elite crowd is in such a panic about the new city’s formation.