I’m not going to say that the time has flown by, but something should be said now that my blog Between the Lines, mirrored at The Hayride, has surpassed its 15th birthday.
That makes it the oldest blog on Louisiana politics out there, or at the very least the oldest that has published continuously and regularly (if anybody thinks I missed something here, let me know). Not that there were many out there 15 years ago; the only two that were with any frequency of publishing were John Copes’ Deduct Box and C.B. Forgotston’s Forgotston.com (both of whose authors sadly have gone onto their rewards).
Circumstance more than anything else led to establishing Between the Lines, which is the moniker I long have used for my columns. In 2002 I published under that every other week for FaxNet Update, which didn’t have a real Internet presence but largely circulated by e-mail. This roundup of political news and commentary lasted until the beginning of 2018, when its proprietor Lou Gehrig Burnett unfortunately cashed in.
At that time, I had considered extending that effort into something online and five-times-a-week. I had been teaching classes on state and local politics and also Louisiana government for several years, and there was a lot to say about the northwest Louisiana and statewide scenes. With Republican former Gov. Mike Foster in office and a growing Republican presence in the Louisiana Legislature (who battled each other as often as they cooperated), I could sense coming the first real sustained challenge to the state’s political culture of liberal populism.
GOP former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s close loss at his first try at the job – a race he should have won – in 2003 as well as increased GOP success at the congressional level and Republican former Sen. David Vitter’s win in 2004 presaged further interesting political times coming, but I hadn’t launched my project by then. In late 2002, my wife Deshae, who was born with muscular dystrophy and at that time hadn’t walked for nearly 15 years, stopped being able to breathe on her own. This required her to have a hole poked in her throat, a tube stuck in it, and then circuitry connected to a transportable ventilator attached, which she must live with for the rest of her life.
This, as they (whoever “they” are) say, was a whole new ballgame for both of us. It has led to a life so different than the one practically anyone else lives that (perhaps reflecting poorly on my abilities as a wordsmith) it is essentially indescribable and otherwise unknowable; it’s something you have to live really to understand how entirely changed your life becomes and how it bears so little resemblance to how the typical person lives. Insofar as my profession goes, it radically changed my ability to engage in research and ultimately altered entirely my method of delivering instruction.
After someone submits to a tracheostomy, she experiences a shakedown period of learning to live on a vent while staying sick as little as possible (the central problems being bypass of the nostrils on down removes a prime infection control mechanism and the inability to cough up infected material). It usually takes many months and it did in Deshae’s case. During this period that required several hospitalizations, it became increasingly clear to me that my days of being able to sustain a research agenda, which in academia for most means a prolonged amount of inquiry into a subject and writing that I found I best tackled for extended uninterrupted periods, couldn’t last. Already I was spending several hours a day taking care of Deshae and, even when qualified medical personnel were on site, was often interrupted to do things they couldn’t (plus, then and for many years after we had no overnight assistance at all).
Thus, I knew I would have to contribute in other ways, and the idea of writing a regular Internet column on Louisiana politics fit the bill. These typically need just a short, intense burst of research for each, and it is something I can do from a lot of different places (which has become even more of a certainty as technology has advanced since). By the end of 2004 with Deshae’s situation more or less stabilized (as much as hers can be, which to the outside observer would appear chaotic), I knew it was a project to which I could commit. Already I had dipped by toe into this as by then I was contributing weekly columns to a site called PoliticsLa.com (hi, Charlie) which wouldn’t last and another that has, BayouBuzz (hi, Steve).
Therefore, on Jan. 17, 2005, I launched the online Between the Lines. (And weeks later a companion, the Louisiana Legislature Log, which will start its 16th year of covering legislation in a couple of months.) It contributes in that it brings a wealth of academic information into play too often absent in typical opinion writing. With all due respect to my colleagues in journalism, their knowledge about political behavior and institutions often is a mile wide but an inch deep, and that can lead to making fundamental errors and misjudgments about these when opining. (I do see less of this as the Internet has made academic research – although often of uneven quality – more widely available, but then the problem becomes sorting through the wheat and the chaff, which is something someone who has done much in-depth study of the subject does much better at.)
A lot has happened since – regular columns for the Baton Rouge Advocate and Minden Press-Herald that have come and gone, and my current columns for Hanna Newspapers (which mirrors a post each week; hi, Sam) and the Caddo Inquisitor (the link to which appears as a post; hi, John). Plus, the Louisiana political landscape obviously has changed, noticeably.
If I had to sum up an era that began with a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion who led a strongly-Democrat legislature as Democrats began to fall by the wayside in the state’s federal offices, to today with almost all of the relatively few elected Democrats at the statewide and federal level representing majority-black districts, Republicans with large legislative majorities and controlling every part of state government except for one (the most significant) executive branch office, and with that officer at significant odds with the legislative majority and ideological preferences of the state’s electorate, it’s this: this displays an ongoing maturation of Louisiana’s political culture that continues to lose its distinctiveness in the face of technological changes, societal modernization, and increased voter sophistication.
I’m pleased to have provided some insight on all of this for the past 15 years, and I fully intend to do it for many years to come. (Deshae is hanging in there in her 18th year of vent life, which few in her situation ever reach, having retired from her university adjunct instructor role just a couple of years ago; thanks for asking.) Keep this space bookmarked, and thanks for reading.