Alford: Defining The Louisiana Mood

I was eating boiled crawfish last Friday night with my wife and children in Baton Rouge — Crawfish season! Finally! — when I received a text a message. The digital missive was from a longtime Capitol player, someone who knows the House and the Senate and all of the illuminated and darkened corners in between.

This individual said they felt like Louisiana residents were nearing a breaking point when it comes to the status quo, in regard to government and politics, and that the mood of the electorate would soon make way for some kind of change.

Moreover, what did I think the mood of the Bayou State was at this particular moment?

That was a lofty question to ask someone when they’re roughly two pounds into a sack of crawfish and two beers down (maybe more; knowing benefits your reading of this column very little, so for the public record we’ll go with a pair of beers). I closed the text and filed the question away, promising myself at the time that I would think on it and eventually reply.

Am I even qualified to answer such a question? It really doesn’t matter. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and these days to their own sets of facts as well it seems. But I am a lifelong resident (raised in Port Allen) and I own a business here (LaPolitics.com). Along with my wife, I’m raising a family in Louisiana and we plan on calling This Place home for the rest of our days.

As I peeled a crawfish (I’m not bragging, but I can move through mudbugs at the speed of sound), it occurred to me that the vast majority of residents aren’t engaged on government and political issues at all. We have a population of 4.6 million people in Louisiana, of which about 1 million of them are not eligible to vote.

Another 600,000 residents are eligible to vote, but aren’t registered. And of the 2.9 million Louisianans who are registered, only a small percentage take the time to weigh in on elections. The last statewide primary held in October drew just a 13.6 percent turnout, or 406,000 voters. Put another way, nearly 9 percent of the total state population decided those statewide elections.

Yet even among those who never vote, and we all know someone who fits that description, the “same old song and dance” sentiment appears to run strong. Even if it’s just a matter of cliche. When it comes to chronic voters, or those folks I meet at chamber and Rotary meetings across Louisiana, the sentiment exists there as well. Sometimes to the extreme, and even more so lately.

Sure, I thought as I peeled another crawfish, people want something different. Maybe that’s why Gov. John Bel Edwards, the lone Democrat in the Deep South, continues to enjoy great poll numbers here. He’s different — none of the wonk of Bobby Jindal, without the emotions of Kathleen Blanco and devoid of the political pragmatism of Edwin Edwards. 

President Donald Trump, of course, showed us what that anti-status quo sentiment can really look like when voters pounce. He’s the real case study.

But if we all take a step back, take a look around and breathe, we might realize that the problem isn’t the candidates, or the players. It’s really about the game. (As in changing the game.) Platitudes, predictable paid media, the pace of real policymaking, unrealistic stances and fake emotions are eroding what little trust remains between the public and our government.

People I visit with, professionally and personally, contend they’re working harder than ever in Louisiana and gaining only incremental ground. No one understands what's happening with their tax dollars. They keep paying taxes, but they see very little in return. All the while politicians continue to discuss whether more tax revenue is needed.

Frustration and resentment are all too common themes. Not everyone feels that way. I know as much. But I was asked to put down my crawfish and share what I’m hearing — and I guess what I’m experiencing.

I fried fish not long ago with some friends and we talked about how we were discouraged, ashamed even, that we couldn't provide the same childhoods to our children that we had been afforded. Crime was the topic that day. Some of us wondered if it was simply a matter of not living in the same neighborhoods. It wasn't until later that I realized I couldn't replicate that anywhere even if I tried. Times have changed.

Last month I also made my first offer to a full-time employee. Right out of college, she was the perfect candidate and I threw everything we had at her. The nearly two-week process ended with her telling me she couldn't see herself in Louisiana a year from now. I had always taken such stories with a grain of salt. Until it happened to me.

I think people just want to see progress and feel like their government is being as honest as a government can be. They want to know that their tax dollars are helping them and the people they love. If someone can bottle a message that nostalgia doesn't have to be a dream, and that government can be a tangible "thing" with "real people" at the helm, then maybe that could lead to something.

In all fairness, I never said I had the answers.

In other news, the crawfish are really small right now. But if you know how to cook them and you put the right people at the table, it doesn’t matter. That’s how we roll in Louisiana.

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