Yesterday’s announcement that four of the five Democrats on that body – Chauna Banks, Lamont Cole, Erika Green and Donna Collins-Lewis – would be abstaining from a vote on a replacement for Buddy Amoroso and Banks’ tweet giving partisan political reasoning behind that move generated a sizable furor among the politically-involved in Baton Rouge. It’s clear the issue became far too hot to handle in short order.
The abstentions, coupled with Amoroso’s untimely death a week and a half ago in a biking accident on a lonely stretch of highway in West Feliciana Parish, left only seven Metro Council members available to vote on a replacement for the former Republican stalwart on the council. All seven would need to vote for that replacement in order to seat him – or her, in this case, since it appears Amoroso’s widow Denise is interested in serving on the council in his place until a special election for the seat will be held next March. Were the replacement to fail to get seven votes at the July 18 meeting of the Metro Council, the matter would revert to an appointment by Gov. John Bel Edwards. And some in the Democrat community in Baton Rouge were under the impression this could produce a Democrat appointee in Amoroso’s heavily Republican district.
For example, this despicable individual suggested such an eventuality last Friday, the day of Amoroso’s funeral…
To make the appointment to the council, there must be a majority vote. Unless one of the black democrats agrees to votes to support the nominee to replace Armoroso, the appointment goes to Governor John Bel Edwards, who is a democrat. According to state law, “If a vacancy is not filled within the time specified in RS 18:602 Subsection A, B, or C of this Section, the governor shall fill the vacancy.”
This is to the advantage of the black democrats of the council. It is highly unlikely that republicans will offer a candidate that is not a republican and historically republicans have looked to the widow of the member of the council. If there is not a consensus and the council doesn’t make an appointment the decision goes to the governor according to the law.
Political leaders almost always appoint someone within their political party to fill vacant seats. It is the right of the governor to appoint whom he choses. Which Gov. Edwards could appoint a black democrat, which would be historic and for the first time in history give Baton Rouge a racially and politically split metro council. This scenario gives Baton Rouge the opportunity at least for the next 9 months to see what a racially balanced council would produce for the citizens of Baton Rouge.
The ball is in the court of the black democrats on the council to influence the make up of the metro council moving forward. If the democrats remain united, they can force a potential historic change for the city of Baton Rouge. If they are divided, potentially history will repeat itself and the widow of the council member will decide the destiny of the parish if she chooses to make a recommendation to the council.
Banks and the other three – two of whom, Cole and Green, made it onto the Metro Council as appointments for unexpired terms – were obviously taking political advice from Gary Chambers before jumping over a cliff with the abstentions. And Green did so after being notified by Republican member Matt Watson on Monday that Denise Amoroso had expressed a willingness to serve on the Council until the next election…
So it wasn’t that the four prospective abstainers lacked information as to who would be nominated. They knew Denise Amoroso was a potential candidate before they attempted to engage in their power play.
Unfortunately for them, the fifth black Democrat on the Metro Council, Tara Wicker, was most certainly not on board with the move. Wicker told the Baton Rouge Advocate that she was disgusted by it…
Wicker said she understood the desire among Democrats to turn the council into an even 6-6 split with Republican counterparts, but that her fellow Democrats were making a mistake.
“Are there inequities? Yes. Should we fix them? Yes. But utilizing something so horrendous to the family as a way to make a statement is just not right,” Wicker said.
Wicker said the Democrats want to force Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration to fill the seat, which could happen if the Metro Council is unable to fill it by July 20. The council is expected to vote July 18 on the interim appointment, which will require seven votes.
Wicker pointed out that there’s no guarantee that the governor’s administration would appoint a Democrat to the seat in Amoroso’s absence. She said she would happily vote for Denise Amoroso to fill the vacant seat.
“I believe in my heart it’s the right and moral thing to do,” Wicker said.
Finally last night, Baton Rouge mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome issued a statement which apparently put the issue to rest…
“It’s important for everyone to remember that we are still mourning the death of our former colleague. We have a longstanding tradition and precedent in which members of the metro council allow the family of the deceased member to honor their loved one by being named as the temporary replacement until an election is called. I cannot think of any reason why this should not be the path forward in this instance, if that’s the wish of his widow, Denise.
“There are times when we must put politics aside for the greater good of the community and I strongly believe this is one of those times.”
What’s fairly clear is the backlash on social media and otherwise probably aided the St. George effort rather than otherwise. Lionel Rainey, the Baton Rouge political consultant who both worked for Amoroso in his 2015 race for state representative and for the St. George incorporation effort from 2015-16, put out this statement…
This is repugnant and without class. I hate to break it to Councilwoman Banks, but the replacement for Buddy Amaroso is inconsequential to the success of St. George. That’s going to happen. All this stunt proves is how dysfunctional, partisan, and now dishonorable our city government and leadership has become.
The silence on this from Mayor Broome and every other “Together” group in Baton Rouge is deafening. If they have a shred of decency they will condemn it in the strongest language possible.
And without support from the mayor, the cabal of abstainers clearly lost heart. Cole put out a statement which, while it was anything but honest as the conversation between Watson and Green referenced above would serve to prove, shows evidence of a backing-down…
Prior to Denise Amoroso making any public comments, a number of people residing in district eight reached out to us relative to being appointed to the vacant seat. We wanted all of them to know we will not vote to appoint anyone to the seat.
Now that we know Mrs. Amoroso is strongly considering filling the seat, we too look forward to having a face -to -face discussion with her about the best path forward in terms of representation for the district.
We will revisit our decision after our conversation with Denise Amoroso.
In the end, it appears this was something of a tempest in a teapot – but nevertheless an instructive experience, as it’s now quite obvious that Cole, Green, Banks and Collins-Lewis are (1) influenced in large measure by the stupidity of Chambers, and (2) naked in their efforts to grasp political power over Baton Rouge.
Voters outside of their districts, and specifically those in the area that would be St. George, will clearly take notice.