Democrats feel the crunch because the Ninth Ward, the largest and by far the most populous ward in the Crescent City, once provided a reliable bloc of 30,000 black voters always ready and eager to mobilize on behalf of a strong Democratic candidate, particularly one who was opposed by a right-wing Republican. Many electoral victories ' local, regional and statewide ' have been chalked up at least in part to black voters in the Ninth Ward.
For example, the area was a political lifeline for Gov. Kathleen Blanco in 2003 and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in 1996 and 2002. In the wake of Katrina, however, Blanco and Landrieu ' along with other Democratic statewide hopefuls ' have often been written off by pundits and GOP cheerleaders.
Evidence of their imminent demise was expected from the Nov. 7 election returns, and official results from the secretary of state may soon reveal problem areas for Democrats. But the data also will divulge a newly identified and significant bloc of black voters in north Louisiana, voters the Democratic Party could count on to make up for the displaced New Orleans base. These newfound Democratic voters could make Louisiana's northern parishes the new base the party needs in the next two years.
One Democratic beacon Nov. 7 was the election of state Rep. Cedric Glover, an African-American Democrat, as mayor of Shreveport. Voter turnout was expected to be in the low 40s, but by that Tuesday evening it was closer to 53 percent. Elliott Stonecipher, a Shreveport demographer and political analyst, estimates black turnout was 15 percent higher for the runoff than the primary ' and possibly higher than any other time in recent history. In the end, 65,821 people voted largely along racial lines, with Glover winning by 4,529 votes.
Hordes of cash were dumped into get-out-the-vote efforts, indicating the stakes may have been higher than just a mayoral contest. Landrieu's political action committee donated $2,500, and the state party spent in excess of $30,000 on the final day alone, paying 75 election workers $50 or more each to get people to the polls. Buses were employed to transport voters, and thousands of dollars were spent on advertisements on urban radio.
It's a classic formula proven successful in New Orleans for generations and, more recently, in Baton Rouge. "But I've never seen it on this scale in Shreveport," Stonecipher says.
If the entire Shreveport region can be managed in coming years the way it was this fall, Democrats could be in decent shape for statewide runoffs, Stonecipher adds. If done in concert with all of Caddo Parish, which has nearly 66,000 black voters, as well as Ouachita (30,827), Rapides (22,064) and a few others, the party could find its old magic again. "Simply by adding 50,000 or so new black votes just from these cities and parishes, along with the black vote still in New Orleans, it's hard to argue that the disadvantage we believed Blanco or Landrieu faced necessarily exists," Stonecipher says.
There is indeed a thriving base in central and north Louisiana, says Danny Ford, executive director of the state Democratic Party, and it has been neglected for way too long. "Strategically, we've relied too heavily on New Orleans in the past," he says. "The strategy isn't that New Orleans is gone, but we have to find a way to work with what we have. It's all about turnout. Once you know where the voters are, it's strictly a numbers game." Black votes can be turned out in Shreveport and Alexandria, he says, but the party must also focus on reconnecting with rural, white voters.
Turnout in black communities is precisely what's on the agenda of Ernest L. Johnson, president of the Louisiana chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP has 30,000 members statewide. Johnson says his organization is identifying 10,000 precinct captains to handle massive GOTV efforts across Louisiana for the 2007 gubernatorial race. Presently, 1,000 have been brought onboard to help duplicate some of the Democratic successes in north Louisiana this year. "Our belief is we just need to do a better job of turning the vote out," Johnson says. "And we're going to do that."
Another factor that may help Democrats is an undercurrent of racial polarity in various parts of the state. In the Shreveport mayor's election, race was a central issue as blacks rallied behind a movement to put the first African-American in that office. Earlier this year, Alexandria nearly elected a black mayor in another hard-fought contest.
In the Third Congressional District, failed candidate state Sen. Craig Romero, a Republican from New Iberia, sent African-American voters a mailer trying to link neo-Nazi and former Klan leader David Duke with Congressman Charlie Melancon, a Napoleonville Democrat who served briefly in the state House with Duke. Blacks in that district are still complaining about Romero's tactic.
Racial tension in Louisiana politics is nothing new, but are these types of incidents building toward something? Right now racial undertones in state politics are subtle but noteworthy, says Johnson, who teaches civil rights at Southern University. Stonecipher agrees, adding that racial currents shouldn't be ignored. "This is the elephant in the room," he says, "and we better pay attention to it."
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The former star of Saturday Night Live throws in his 2 cents on the Big Oil lawsuit.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.