On Nov. 6, 1984 — I was a freshman in college and it was four days after my 18th birthday — I voted for Walter Mondale for president. My introduction to civic participation didn’t end with the hoped-for result; Mondale was trounced by Ronald Reagan. But I was happy to be part of the democratic process, and I remain so today.
In the intervening three decades, during which I’ve always been registered “no party,” I’ve voted faithfully, mostly for Democrats but also for Greens and independents, but never — not once — for a Republican. I’m a liberal and I’m proud of it. But I have Republican friends. Hell, most of my kin are Republican, and I love them dearly even as I marvel at their myopia. Yet for candidates for office, the R behind the name and everything I associate with it — the Gilded Age widening of the wealth gap, the disenfranchisement of the middle class and decades-long assault on labor unions, the takeover of the party by the religious right and now the Tea Party — have been a deal breaker. It is what it is, as they say.
But I’m not writing this to argue the fallacy of supply-side economics, the efficacy of strong labor unions or the supremacy of Keynesian economics. I’m writing this to admit, begrudgingly and not without a whiff of self-amazement, that for the fi rst time in my life I voted Republican — on Oct. 24, for Dee Stanley for city-parish president. Frankly, it wasn’t that hard, and I only shuddered a little.
My motivation for pressing the button for Stanley was two-fold. Secondarily, he’s been a capable chief administrative officer for 12 years and knows the machinery of Lafayette Consolidated Government better than anyone. He is also a known commodity; to the extent that his boss, Joey Durel, has been a competent steward of consolidated government — and I believe he generally has, with caveats — I anticipated Stanley would continue that.
Although Durel is a conservative Republican, he quickly became a pragmatist during his first term, and with few exceptions — In God We Trust anyone? — hasn’t let national culture-war BS muddy local politics. Like Robideaux, who switched to Republican a few years ago during his unsuccessful bid to become House speaker, Stanley is by most appearances a Republican by convenience, switching to the GOP himself in 2010, likely when he decided he would run to succeed Durel, well aware that a non- Republican cannot now or probably in the foreseeable future get elected to parishwide office in Lafayette.
But I was primarily swayed to vote for Stanley because of the timbre of Robideaux’s campaign, or more accurately the tone of those who supported him. The fi nal three weeks heading into the Oct. 24 election were an unremitting, choking miasma of invective, innuendo, half truths and outright lies directed at Stanley. The push poll. The ethics complaint. The cronyism smears. The full-page newspaper ads.
I’m not accusing Robideaux of conducting this mudslinging himself. But I am suggesting that Robideaux participated by silence, that he performed perfidy by proxy. Not once that I noticed did Robideaux call out those who would savage a decent man just for the sake of winning. Not once that I recall did Robideaux distance himself from or denounce the entitled, psychopathic bully of a real estate developer who bankrolled the dissembling Louisiana Victory Fund, donated to Robideaux’s campaign, noshed hors d’oeuvres at Robideaux fundraisers and lied with abandon on Robideaux’s behalf. Not once. Robideaux could have and should have said something in my opinion. But he didn’t. Not publicly. He insisted he was running a positive campaign even as those around him behaved like the slime on the sole of Lee Atwater’s loafer.
Yet Robideaux’s 12-point victory was resounding — a mandate even; for what I’m not sure, but I and this newspaper will hold him to his oft-repeated vow to serve all the people of the parish. Some in the business of churning out conventional wisdom say the black vote carried the day for Robideaux. If that’s true, and even if it’s not — United Ballot, whose influence is clearly waning in the local black community, endorsed Stanley — we’d like to see Robideaux devote more energy to addressing issues that hamper opportunity in Lafayette’s urban core. Lafayette will never approach its potential as a truly happy, prosperous place until happiness and prosperity are tangible in our most economically depressed neighborhoods — until our most economically depressed neighborhoods are, simply, neighborhoods.
Lafayette’s south side has its own destructive cycle of sprawl and traffic congestion necessitating new and widened roads, which encourage more sprawl and more traffic congestion ad nauseum. Politicos in Lafayette like to say that’s a good problem to have, that it’s a sign of prosperity. OK, fine, fair enough. Let’s get some gridlock on the Northside. This will be easier for Robideaux and the next council because Lafayette’s south and southeast sides have practically bustled to the margins of the parish and are spilling over into Vermilion and St. Martin parishes. We can grow more smartly as a parish, and conditions are ripe to encourage that. Keeping Carlee Alm-LaBar as chief development officer rather than awarding that crucial position to a crony will go a long way in generating confidence in a new Robideaux administration (we’re already hearing speculation a couple of scary prospects from the Walter Comeaux administration are under consideration). Durel didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broke when he came into office in 2004; Robideaux should follow Durel’s lead. Be a competent manager, and Lafayette will do the rest.
Robideaux won, and I wish him the best. The next few years will require his best as Lafayette settles into the reality of low oil prices and plummeting sales taxes for the foreseeable future.
And now, as of this writing and until the Nov. 21 runoff election, we get to sit back and choke on another four weeks of foul air — of “John Bel Edwards is an Obama liberal” and “Mark Garber fancies enchiladas and swarthy illegal aliens.”
Chad Leger has no more business being sheriff of Lafayette Parish than Barney Fife, and David Vitter has no more business being governor of Louisiana than Bobby Jindal. But both may win. Oct. 24 validated the efficacy of ugly campaigning, even in sanguine Lafayette Parish. And with my vote for Stanley and the deepening oil bust in the backdrop, I can’t help but feel like it’s 1984 all over again.