On The Road Again… #3: Louisiana

by Jackie_South on August 27, 2014

BatonRouge photo

For the third episode of my US travel journal, I am in the Pelican State

I’m running a little behind on my travel journal, so I have now left Louisiana and returned to Texas. But regular readers of this blog might know that I have a soft spot for the Pelican State, even if it is probably the most corrupt in the Union, and it would be remiss not to write on my visit to its three largest cities last week.

Politically, the most interesting contest this year will be the Senate race, where the Democrats’ last remaining senator in the Deep South faces a tough election. The House of Representatives’ contests on the other hand will offer no such contest. I cover them for each of the cities below.

SHREVEPORT
Our first city is Shreveport, in the northwest of the state, set on the Red River. The river is spanned by the Huey Long – OK Allen Bridge, one of the many infrastructure projects planned in the late twenties/ early thirties when their governor Huey Long pursued a populist left-wing programme to drag the state out of its post Civil War decline and torpor.

Across the bridge is Shreveport’s twin – Bossier City. Shreveport has the history and downtown, Bossier the shops along the river. Before the 1930s, both were linked only by boat and were fairly inaccessible by other means. Shreveport was the Trans-Mississippi Confederate capital at the end of the Civil War, never captured by the Union. Shreveport’s other claims to fame are its music: the city hosted the Louisiana Hayride radio programme, second only to the Grand Ole Opry in promoting County Music in the Fifties at a time when singer Jimmie Davis, writer of “You Are My Sunshine” was the rightwing Democrat governor of the state. The city also gave the world the Blues of Lead Belly.

The north of Louisiana is desperately poor. Shreveport and Bossier City have both tried to get a boost for their economies by having river casinos, a frequent tactic in the Deep South that seems here to just about be keeping the wolf from its door, with pensioners as its main income source during the week.

Louisiana’s Fourth District
Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana is the only Southern state to lose a congressional seat in 2012 through population decline. The fourth district stretches down the northwest side of the state, almost as far south as Lafayette. It is now a fairly Republican seat (although the Democrats held it until 1996) with a Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of R+11 (i.e. in an average presidential election, the Republicans would get 11% more votes here than nationally). In 2012, the Democrats didn’t even bother to run a candidate here against Congressman John Fleming.

BATON ROUGE
The state capital, and second largest city, is a far less conservative and staid place than Shreveport, although in a sleepy-by-the-Mississippi, laid-back cool kind of way. Historically, Baton Rouge is a bit of an oddity: it was not part of the Louisiana Purchase and only became part of the state seven years later after a period of confused ownership. Nevertheless, it has been capital of the state since 1849 when north Louisianans complained that New Orleans was too distant.

For politicians, it has some great museums, particularly tracking the history of Huey Long. Long not only built those bridges, but thousands of miles of road in just four years in a land that was previously almost impenetrable other than by boat. He boosted education spending and tackled poverty of both black and white (uniquely for the South between the wars) communities, and taxed the oil corporations to fund it all. His grave (see photo above) stands prominently in front of the art deco tower of a state capitol he built too – he was assassinated in the building in 1935.

Louisiana’s Sixth District
Since the redrawing of boundaries, Democrat Baton Rouge has been split in two electorally. The poor north and east of the city has been taken into the safe Democrat second district (see below) whilst the city centre and wealthier southern parts of the city have remained in the Sixth District. It now takes in swathes of rural, and conservative, land and swamp to the north and west of New Orleans.

The Democrats managed to win a ‘Special Election’ in the district in early 2008, only to lose it again in that year’s main elections. But the 2012 boundary changes ensure that is unlikely to happen again: it now has a PVI of R+19. Congressman Bill Cassidy is standing down to fight for the Senate seat but his Republican sucessor will have no problem holding on.

NEW ORLEANS
New Orleans photoThe Crescent City still shows signs that it is getting back to life after Katrina, although not in the flourishing French Quarter, downtown or moneyed Garden District. It is still a stunningly beautiful city, even if Bourbon Street requires you to dodge the innumerable stag parties stumbling from bar to bar to strip joint. But it is easy enough to find places off of Bourbon where there is good music, particularly its jazz in Frenchman Street and the Jazz Preservation Hall.

As the headline of the Times Picayune shows, it is getting on top of its problems thanks to leadership of Mayor Mitch Landrieu. That said, Bourbon Street saw a fatal shooting a few months ago that clearly shook businesses up. The city is still ploughing through its legacy of corruption from the Ray Nagin era and before: a key story in the press was how Gill Pratt, one of the city councilwomen wrapped up in the corruption of former congressman Bill Jefferson (he had difficulty in 2006 explaining to the FBI where all the money he was keeping in his freezer came from) was spinning out the start of her prison sentence.

Louisiana’s Second District
Rock solidly Democrat: PVI of D +22. That said, the Republicans did hold it for a term in 2008, following Bill Jefferson’s disgrace and factional Democrat politics still picking him to stand again. Cedric Richmond is now the Democratic congressman for the district, which covers most of New Orleans and in the post-Katrina boundary changes now takes in the black-majority parts of Baton Rouge. He will cruise to victory this time around in what will remain the Democrats’ only House seat in Louisiana.

SENATE RACE

As stated above, Democrat Mary Landrieu (sister of Mitch) is facing a tough contest to hold on to her Senate seat. However. this is not a new experience for her: she has never exceeded 52% of the vote in her three other senate elections. Her best result was last time, in 2008, thanks to the boost from the presidential elections that day. That won’t be a factor this time and the post-Katrina demographics (most of those that left the state were likely to be Democrat voters) make holding on harder.

The Republican challenger is Bill Cassidy, currently congressman for the sixth district. The Republicans are pulling out all the stops in the campaign – with extensive TV adverts condemning Landrieu’s expenses as senator – mainly for her flights. Given that she is the chair of the Senate’s energy committee (taking her far and wide across the states) this criticism is more than a little unfair. Landrieu has defended her record and makes the case that having a Louisianan as the chair of that committee helps the state with its oil-reliant economy.

This will be a close call, probably with Cassidy favoured at the moment. If the Republicans win this senatorship, they will be well on the way to taking control of  Senate this time, effectively being able to veto the Obama administration on anything in its last two years and being able to push wackadoodle politics through both Houses of Congress. This is definitely a contest to keep an eye on.

PRESS
The Times-Picayune is one of my favourite local papers in the US, not least because of its weird name (the Picayune used to be a currency in the area under the Spanish and used alongside the dollar in the state’s first forty years). IT is well written with a good spread of national and local stories.

The biggest local story whilst I was there was the courts overturning an attempt by Louisiana’ governor, Bobby Jindal, to opt out of the national school testing system on ideological grounds. The paper was about as scathing about the governor as they do in local papers in America on this, and it looks as if the Pelican State has now permanently fallen out of love with Jindal.

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