Editor’s Note: A guest post from John Mathis, CEO of the Solution Fund.
The front page of the Baton Rouge Advocate informed us on July 17 that the St. George petition drive organizers have ended their fight for now. State law requires that they wait two years before launching an identical drive. Make no mistake about it, St. George is still leaving. I can guarantee it and speak with authority because I have already seen it happen. In full disclosure, I must tell you how I stood on the issue as someone who is raising a family in the unincorporated area that would have become St. George. I signed the petition, but I still believed that a common sense majority can be brought to the polls in the 2016 East Baton Rouge elections that could make the necessary changes in Baton Rouge for all of us to remain.
Before I go any further, let me tell you who my St. George is. My St. George resides in Mid City, the Garden District, Shenandoah, and North Baton Rouge. If we see who we are and don’t allow ourselves to be separated by politicians, the members of my St. George can change Baton Rouge before we all have to leave it. My St. George has been leaving Baton Rouge and cannot be stopped from doing so because it is a matter of survival.
My St. George includes the African American, Democrat, food service worker working three jobs that worked my table this morning after working another job all night. She told me how she was thanking God that she “hit the lottery” when her daughter was admitted into Baton Rouge High.
If she hadn’t had that good fortune she said she would have moved from East Baton Rouge Parish.
When I tell you St. George is leaving, I can guarantee it because it happened in my home town.
I grew up in what only can be identified as abject poverty in New Orleans. However, I could walk, or ride my bike to work without fear of assault. Safe schools existed for all students in my area, not just an elite magnet group. It was a place working folks could stay in and build a life. That changed and when working folks could not survive there anymore, it also changed for the folks across the highway I thought of as “wealthy”. The New Orleans neighborhoods I aspired to maybe live in one day are now crime infested areas. I saw New Orleans East neighborhoods change from a family friendly suburb with a modern mall to a ghetto where anyone who could afford to escape did in less than a decade. Frankly, the systematic problems that gradually led to this demise were not too concerning to the “wealthy” folks living in the Eastover Country Club in New Orleans East. They were sending their children to private schools. The Eastover folks were greatly affected in just a few years, however. Every family making even 100K in the neighborhoods around them left because they didn’t have the resources to send all their children to private school. You couldn’t give away a house in Eastover after that happened.
As we used to say in the neighborhood, it’s time for some “real talk.” A two income Republican family with three kids in Baton Rouge making 100K per year has the same problems as the single parent making 20k per year who identifies as a Democrat. Neither household can afford to live in a safe neighborhood and provide a suitable education to their children in East Baton Rouge Parish unless they “hit a lottery”. These members of my St. George will be forced to leave as a matter of survival and when they do you will not like the Baton Rouge that is left.
How can we avoid this? More real talk: If the St. George election would have happened this year, several million dollars would have been thrown against it by the movers and shakers in Baton Rouge, both Democrat and Republican, because it was against their perceived business interests.
Mr. and Ms. Mover and Shaker better effectively place their money and efforts behind a slate of council, school board, and mayoral candidates that are about best practices and free market innovations to make Baton Rouge a city where families making 30, 50, even 100k per year can afford to live in with the same passion they would have fought St George this fall. If you do not concern yourselves with these issues now, you will not want to live in the Baton Rouge the next mayor leaves you, even from behind the walls of a gated community.