The effort to recall Mayor Latoya Cantrell is a distraction from the true political threats New Orleanians face. The real threats come from Louisiana conservatives who have drummed up disproportionate outrage over Mayor Cantrell’s travel and the optics of other issues.
Conservative propaganda is a game of blaming the wrong people for real problems. In that world, Mayor Cantrell is just as responsible for problems whose causes lie beyond City Hall as President Joe Biden is for global inflation. Sadly, the most logically challenged or cynically disingenuous citizens believe those claims. We need to consider recent developments and long-standing trends that have put our future at risk. All of them bear an (R).
Let’s start with the weather. The most provincial New Orleanians have blamed the Sewerage and Water Board for unprecedented flooding events over the past few years, even though evidence from all over the world – Kentucky, Chicago, Germany, Pakistan – shows that climate change is causing rainfall to come down harder and faster than ever before. In 8th grade, I remember learning that these things called “greenhouse gasses” were trapping heat and could cause major weather disasters if nothing were done. I hate to give away my age, but that was almost FIFTY years ago. Conservatives, led by self-interested deceivers like Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) have ensured, and continue to ensure, that sufficient action will never be taken, ever.
After Hurricane Ida, local hero, Devin DeWulf, proved what a home with solar panels and a battery could achieve after a storm, not only for his own family, but for his neighbors, too. Every home in New Orleans should have solar panels and batteries so that none of us has to endure extended power loss after storms. But don’t hold your breath for the self-interested oil boosters in Baton Rouge to promote such a sensible and workable solution, especially not after they nixed the solar installation tax credits that were in place when Dems still had a voice in Baton Rouge.
Selfish politicos like Landry and Slidell state senator Sharon Hewitt (R) have shown themselves to be perfectly willing to sacrifice south Louisiana’s future to enrich themselves. “What about all those oil industry jobs?” you might ask. They make up only 12% of total jobs in the state, and many are held by out-of-state workers. Those jobs could easily be redirected into offshore wind and other renewable energy projects if people like Landry and Hewitt weren’t looking after the ill-gotten gains.
What’s worse is that conservative jabs at New Orleans got a whole lot uglier this summer, as Landry got the other MAGA stooges on the State Bond Commission to block future funds for the city’s flood control, of all things, before they later approved them. He actually showed up in New Orleans and openly threatened us, urging the vast majority of us to move. True story! He stood at our own civil district court on Loyola Avenue and said “If you don’t like Louisiana’s laws…you can move to another state.”
Landry’s challenge applies to the 85% of us who routinely shun Republican candidates at the ballot box. The unanimous chorus of city-wide leaders — including Mayor Cantrell — who promised resistance to the state’s repulsive law to deprive women of their bodily autonomy was a shining moment for our city, even if we are powerless to change the laws passed by legislators who despise New Orleans voters and their values. Landry likes to point out that the majority of Louisiana voters in 2020 affirmed that the state constitution does not protect pregnant citizens’ rights to control their own bodies. But not New Orleans voters. Seventy five percent of us voted against declaring there is no right to and no funding of abortion in the Louisiana constitution.
This vast distance between New Orleans voters and the rest of the state is a feature of Louisiana politics. Part of the reason is New Orleans is becoming more liberal. But the other cause is the frightening radicalization of the national Republican Party. Since MAGA Republicans realize they have no hope of convincing New Orleanians to go along with their assaults on democracy, Landry promised to “bring” New Orleans “to heel” over our resistance to laws our elected representatives voted against.
Today’s Republicans, like the white supremacist Democrats of the Jim Crow era, portray state governments as a more authentic representation of local political will than Washington is. That assertion is just as false today as it was for the Dixiecrats in the mid-20th Century. Devolving power to the states is the ultimate gerrymander. The largest cities in every red state are opposed to the increasingly authoritarian state governments. Urban voting strength is spread out and watered down, allowing a national minority to “bring to heel” the majority of Americans, namely those who live in urban areas and don’t vote Republican.
Republicans, in their effort to vilify the federal government, love the platitude about how political entities closest to the people govern best. But the people who run the state of Louisiana are not “close” to us here in New Orleans, and that’s why New Orleans voters are routinely on the opposite side of the issues. A more democratic structure would reduce states to something like managerial districts, like precincts within a city, with power divided between the federal and local levels. That way, if voters in Ouachita or St. Landry Parish want to cede their bodies to the state whenever they become pregnant, fine, as long as the rest of us are not forced to live according to values we find reprehensible.
Another one of the values trampled by the state legislature, yet dear to New Orleanians, is racial justice. I’m still dumbfounded by the lack of persistent outrage over the legislature’s baldly racist gerrymandering of Louisiana’s six congressional districts. Conservative white Republicans – none representing New Orleans – designed a map that cuts African-American voting strength in half. Republicans hate it when we call them racist, but, as a practical political matter, racism is not about feelings, it’s about actions. Purposefully cutting Black voting strength in half is racist. Everyone who voted to override Governor John Bel Edwards’ veto of their racist congressional map is racist, regardless of what’s “in their heart.”
The gerrymandering of the congressional map, as well as legislative and other voting districts in the state, is also evidence that the state level of government does not honestly reflect the will of the state’s voters. Today’s authoritarian conservatives claim mandates that they don’t have just as they did during Jim Crow. Sadly, we can’t do much more than, in the words of MAGA underboss Jeff Landry, “thumb (our) noses” at abusive laws aimed at us by people who don’t live here. But just because thumbing our noses is all we can do doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. It’s imperative that we broadcast the message far and wide that we want no part of MAGA world, no matter how much other areas of the state are immersed in it.
New Orleans state representative Royce Duplessis has suggested that our loud denunciation of repressive state laws can signal to other Americans that punishing our blue city for the transgressions of our red state is not warranted. In that vein, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists responded to the state’s law forcing 12 year-olds to have their rapists’ babies by immediately canceling their planned 2023 meeting here – a terrible harbinger for the future of tourism in our city. Why would any self-respecting person with a uterus live in this state—or even visit it? Why visit a place that subjects girls and women to nine months of indentured servitude if they get busted being pregnant? We can “thumb our noses” at the MAGA thugs as much as we want, but the fact remains that nowhere in this state, including liberal New Orleans, is safe for people of child-bearing age.
Even though these threats are still with us, they’ve faded from the headlines, largely because of the overheated vitriol directed at Mayor Cantrell. I think the recall petition is a tempest in a teapot, a mountain out of a molehill, or whatever idiom you prefer to signify what I consider a wildly disproportionate response. Some New Orleanians are buying into the effort to recall a mayor for the first time in the history of our city against the city’s first Black female mayor. But it needs to be clear that suburban Republicans have been driving this misplaced outrage.
Nextdoor.com is a cesspool of racist signaling. It’s a website where local conservatives get far more visibility than their share of the population warrants. Posters from Gretna, Slidell, River Ridge, and beyond never tire of shrilling their outrage at the people elected in New Orleans. Unfortunately, too many of the city’s residents take the bait. What New Orleanians need to realize is how impossible it is for local government alone to address most of what they’re concerned about. Does anyone think that getting rid of Mayor Cantrell before her term ends will result in better solutions to the problems that perennially plague this city?
I voted with the majority of New Orleanians back in 2002 to establish a municipal minimum wage to help cure the economic desperation that breeds the hostility and nihilism we recognize too well in our youthful criminals. But out-of-town conservatives shut it down.
Housing affordability is an issue our local leaders need to deal with, too. But their great effort to sensibly regulate vacation rentals, a prime driver of rising housing costs, was struck down by a panel of conservative federal judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. None of the judges are from New Orleans, and all were appointed by Republican presidents that New Orleans voted against.
The post-COVID crime surge is frightening, just like previous crime waves here and in other cities. But we need to remain clear-eyed about the causes. Even though hysteria over crime is at a fever pitch, it’s nowhere near the levels of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s—not so much because of the crimes themselves, but because of how social media fans the flames and misdirects a rational understanding of cause and effect.
Crime rates are high all over Louisiana. But a big picture analysis shows that gun crimes are a result of conservative policies that New Orleans had no role in promulgating. Even though crime is higher in New Orleans, violent crime rates in rural Louisiana are twice as high as the national average. Moreover, red states suffer from significantly higher murder rates than blue states.
The truth is that the ridiculous level of gun violence across the U.S. will not go down unless we drastically cut the number of guns circulating in the country. New Orleans tried to do something about rampant gun crime in 1998. Former Mayor Marc Morial attempted to sue gun companies for the carnage only to be shut down by conservatives in Baton Rouge.
What the MAGA crowd refuses to admit is that a legal gun is always seconds away from becoming an illegal gun. The largest source of stolen guns in this country is via car theft. Right-wing media drums up statistically improbable fears and people respond by arming themselves. As a result, they contribute to the problem by supplying criminals with the guns they need to commit the next crime.
Do me a favor: next to time you drive to New Orleans to party, leave your gun at home. If you’re too afraid, party somewhere else.
We can’t raise wages, we can’t get guns off the street, we can’t make housing cheaper. We can’t even prevent the impending physical destruction of the city by a gassed-up climate. Maybe we should take Jeff Landry’s advice and move, taking the 25% of the state’s economy that we generate with us. I’m sure they’ll miss us when we’re gone.
C.W.Cannon’s latest book is I Want Magic: Essays on New Orleans, the South, and Race. He teaches writing and New Orleans Studies at Loyola University.
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