I’ve said on a couple of occasions that whether the St. George effort bears fruit this year or not, St. George is an inevitability in East Baton Rouge Parish – because of the demographic trends in the parish and the way they act in extreme disfavor to the largely middle-to-upper-middle class people who live in the unincorporated area south of Baton Rouge city proper.
And Saturday night, when the East Baton Rouge Registrar of Voters ruled that the St. George petition was some 71 votes short of ratification, and that there would therefore be no election on whether to incorporate St. George, my opinion was only strengthened.
Last week the Metro Council appointed Steve Raborn to be the Registrar. It turns out, we’re told from a source within parish government, that Raborn has a longtime connection to Mary Olive Pierson – the attorney contracted by mayor-president Kip Holden to sue St. George if the petition were to bear fruit in order to stop the election from happening. And Raborn’s first act in his new job was to go back into the “old” stack of petition signatures the St. George organizers had previously presented, which had already been ratified, and throw out 88 of them as invalid.
Bear in mind that the St. George organizers turned in two batches of signatures. The first batch brought them over the top of the 17,778 signatures required to trigger the incorporation election, but after the previous registrar threw out a number of those as invalid and brought the St. George group some 2,600 and change short of the number they had 60 days to collect the second batch. And in the second batch they turned in over 4,500 signatures.
The registrar’s office seemingly dragged its feet in processing that second batch, which allowed the opponents of St. George to hunt down people to withdraw from the petition for more than two weeks, and then Raborn delivered his coup de grace by going back into the pile of already-accepted signatures.
There is no evidence that any of the withdrawals, or any of the previously rejected St. George signatures, were given a second look to see if the withdrawals were fake or that some of the previously rejected signatures were actually valid. It has been a one-way process, aided by a slow-moving registrar’s office that gave time for the St. George opponents to gather withdrawals and ultimately kill the petition. When the opponents got close enough, Raborn went back into the pile and yanked a few names more than was needed to kill the petition.
It may be that at the end of the day everything the registrar’s office did was proper, but to the 17,000 people who signed the St. George petition the way this was done will only leave a bad taste in their mouths and make the desire for St. George all the hotter.
Two years from now, a new effort can begin. Between now and then Baton Rouge will have a new mayor-president, and the runaway favorite for that job is state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome – with the top alternative being state Rep. Ted James. Both are black Democrats like current mayor-president Kip Holden, whose policies actively hostile to the middle class have created the momentum for St. George in the first place, but there is a noticeable difference. Holden went into his current position 11 years ago as a state representative who sold himself as “pro-business” and made lots of noises about promoting economic growth rather than wealth redistribution (much of that, it turns out, was false) and he was able to make the case for that narrative owing to the fact his record in the Legislature backed it up to some extent. Holden’s lifetime LABI score was a 47, a number he had burnished in the final few years before running for mayor-president in 2004 (he had run in 2000 but failed, largely because the business community rejected him) on the “pro-business” narrative.
But Weston Broome and James can’t make such claims and likely won’t try. Weston Broome’s lifetime LABI score is 32, which will likely go down after this year’s session is factored in. That ties her for 35th-best in a 39-member body. And James’ lifetime score is 30, again which will likely go down after this year’s session. That ranks him 85th out of 105 House members, five of whom were in their first session this year and have no LABI score so he’s actually 85th out of 100.
Both candidates are as anti-business as could be imagined, and both make no bones about their hostility to private-sector economic development. As Holden’s successor it’s almost a given that either would chart an unquestionably leftist course for East Baton Rouge Parish, and June of 2017, when a new St. George effort could begin, would be six months into a Weston Broome or James term.
Meaning that many of the issues which fueled those 17,000 St. George signatures – St. George was originally about creating an independent school district but quickly expanded into rejection of the budgeting practices of the city-parish government, anger over the wealth redistribution from the unincorporated area to downtown and the other more favored constituencies and disgust with the perceived corruption of Holden’s regime which will only grow with the suspicious actions of the registrar’s office – are only going to get worse.
How will the Powers That Be respond to the anger? Well, there is this…
It’s difficult to imagine at this point that anything John Delgado says will be taken seriously by the St. George folks, and it’s also difficult to imagine that Delgado will back that happy talk with any substantive action to address the concerns of the St. George crowd. If he takes such action perhaps some will forget his wild accusations of the St. George organizers as terrorists and so forth, but most will remember.
And with a highly-charged mayoral election where the majority of the parish’s voters will be black and the likely winning candidate being the one most capable of consolidating the votes of the black community – and remember, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s demographic survey of the parish last year found that the median black household income in East Baton Rouge Parish is just $30,000 per year, compared to a median white household income of $80,000 – the primary political direction of that election will not be how best to placate the St. George crowd. It will be how best to address the income inequality and “social injustice” of the parish.
Not to mention that in 2020 the new census will be taken, and the Metro Council districts will be reapportioned based on the population of the parish. As it currently has a black majority it’s going to be difficult to justify seven districts comfortably held by white Republicans against only five held by black Democrats, so a 6-6 split or even 7-5 the other way is inevitable. This will be known soon, and that will serve as a motivator for upper middle class white people in St. George – and upper middle class black people as well, for that matter – to either decamp for Ascension and Livingston Parishes or renew an incorporation effort.
There are no conditions extant which mitigate toward St. George going away. What the registrar’s office did over the weekend might have stalled the effort to get St. George on the ballot and ultimately into reality, but it may at the same time have set a future St. George in stone.
The next thing to watch for is a neighborhood, perhaps even one inside the city limits of Baton Rouge but adjacent to the unincorporated area, petitioning to be de-annexed from Baton Rouge and incorporated as a city within the next two years – if it were inside the city it wouldn’t be governed by the two-year moratorium on incorporations provided in state law for those areas included in the St. George petition. And should that plan bear fruit the new city could just engage in an aggressive effort at annexation of the unincorporated parts of town which would have been St. George. No election would be necessary for that; all that would be required is the signatures of a majority of the property owners in the areas to be annexed and a vote of the city council of the annexing city (whether it’s called St. George or something else).
Or in the alternative, two years from now the St. George organizers might find the most heavy concentration of supporters of this year’s petition and draw the initial St. George boundaries in that area, put together a lightning petition effort and get the city on the books – and then begin annexing unincorporated areas as they wish to join.
Either way, St. George is going to happen at some point in the future. The opponents of it might believe they’ve won, but if they have their victory is merely temporary. That seems more and more obvious as this saga continues.
UPDATE: I’ll need to make a correction about something said above which actually might strengthen the point being made.
Namely, that Kip Holden’s lifetime LABI score in the legislature wasn’t a 47; it was actually 21. Which would make him worse than either Weston Broome or James, but given that he was in the legislature from 1988-2004 and at that time LABI’s scores were a bit more deflated than they are now given what bills came out of committee compared to which ones come out these days that’s not particularly dispositive.
However, Holden got elected to the state Senate in 2001. The next year, his first as a state senator, his LABI score was zero. But in 2003, the last session before he would launch his 2004 mayoral run, Holden posted a 53 score with LABI. He then went around to the business community and raised money and support. Then in the 2004 session, the first with Kathleen Blanco as governor, Holden had a 27 with LABI. In other words, Holden was busily engaged in fooling potential donors with a “pro-business” voting record in advance of running, and then tried to behave himself a little better than normal during the session in the year he did run.
With Weston Broome and James, it’s easier to post a good score and they still haven’t. And a different mayor with the same approach as Holden is more than enough to make the St. George folks throw their hands up and look for the exits.