There has been much talk about voter turnout in the black community since the October 12th elections in Louisiana. The conversation has been mostly blaming voters for not showing up, over concerns that Governor John Bel Edwards a democrat — now in a runoff will have more difficulty winning November 16th. The question is, what has the party of JBE done to truly engage black voters? It is a given that most black voters, especially in the south are democrats. Yet voter apathy is high, and in a state that is 34% black only second to Mississippi the black vote has the power to shift elections in a major way.
From the perspective of someone who has been deeply engaged in the political process over the last few years, I can tell you the Democratic Party in Louisiana and Baton Rouge do a terrible job marketing democrats to the state. To put it bluntly, typically the only candidate that really gets support by the party is the most marketable and moderate white democrat you can find. I’ll use the Louisiana Secretary of State race and Baton Rouge’s three parish wide races with a single democrat vs a republican as examples.
Gwen Collins – Greenup is in her second race for Louisiana Secretary of State. She ran in a special election in 2018 and received 41% of the vote state wide. She had little to no money or help in that special election, but the powers that be have done nothing to help this black woman. The proof of that is, Collins – Greenup’s last campaign finance report showed she had $9,709.82 on hand going into the primary election. Compared to JBE who had over $3 million on hand. She again is in the runoff against a single republican, and has had no help from the party. Yet, the democrats in Louisiana believe they can spike black voter turnout by asking thousands of black people to go out again and vote for John Bel Edwards, a moderate, white democrat from Amite, Louisiana.
Democrats could be funding Collins – Greenup and getting black people excited about the opportunity to elect the first black person to state wide office in Louisiana since reconstruction. Yet, this sister isn’t politically connected to the establishment and she’s not white so the party deems her not worth the investment for a statewide run. Or at least that’s how it seems. The question is, what more does the woman need to do? She’s made the runoff with no help and no money twice, a little help could go a long way and help JBE at the same time.
Next, Councilwoman Donna Collins – Lewis ran for Clerk of Court, Dr. Rani Whitfield ran for Coroner, and Attorney Jonathan Holloway ran for Tax Assessor in East Baton Rouge Parish. Each of these candidates were more than qualified for the positions they ran for yet the democratic party invested little money in their campaigns. Each of their campaigns were supplied with workers for election day and each had some workers the week leading up to the election. Here is the problem, in a parish the size of East Baton Rouge population 400,000 it takes resources to reach all voters. Resources that are harder to raise if you’re a black candidate. Look at the average black candidates campaign finance report in comparison to a white person running for the same position and you’ll understand my point. The resources just aren’t there and there are a host of reasons for this.
Here we had the possibility to flip each of these offices from the control of republicans in Baton Rouge and the party makes minimal investment from the state level and the local party required each campaign to give them over $3,000 to send out a mailer parish wide with their endorsement.
Let me stop right there to make a point. The local democratic party should be raising money for the candidates, not taking money from the candidates. This practice has gone on for some time now, and it highlights why it is hard for democrats to engage voters and win. Unless the party is going to get serious about helping electable candidates that are black, the party should stop being upset that black voters aren’t getting excited to go vote.
It really isn’t hard to understand. We live in the deep south, and for most black people we’ve never seen people who look like us hold certain offices. So when one of us runs and we find out they have a plan to create change we can get excited about that. Asking black voters to get excited about JBE after most of their communities still look the same four years later isn’t going to cut it. Do I support John Bel Edwards? Yes, I want to see him reelected. I simply understand that if the party doesn’t change its strategy and begin to support black candidates with as much intensity as they do white moderates — voter turnout will continue to suffer.
Some person much smarter than me, with a degree in phycology or sociology would tell you that people connect with people who are from the same background as them. So if it works for social science, why isn’t it working in the political science of Louisiana’s democratic party. We shouldn’t have to wait for our favorite black political insider to run, there are people qualified with the tenacity to run already on the ballot and they deserve our full support. Finically and boots on the ground support, not just word of mouth.
If we want to increase black voter turnout, increase the support for black candidates running for office on the ballot now. Otherwise the “Phony Rispone” ads may just result in some state appointees and employees eating bologna sandwiches in January. Black voter turnout will increase when we get serious about candidates like Gwen Collins – Greenup and the three parish wide candidates in Baton Rouge who didn’t get the support they deserved.