Louisiana’s Black Voters Made Gov. Edward’s Win Possible
It is indisputable. African-American voters were integral to John Bel Edwards victory in the Nov. 16 run off.
No. Scratch that. “Integral” is a fine word, but it does not make it plain enough.
Gov. John Bel Edwards won because of Black voters. And he would have lost without them. PERIOD.
The turnout among African-American voters was at record levels, with estimates that at least 95 percent of the Black vote went to Gov. Edwards.
And because Black voters showed up and showed out for the governor’s race, our impact can be felt across the ballot in most races.
We should feel good about that and proud of our coming together as a unified community. In the days following the election, it was easy to find Black folk congratulating themselves for not only helping the Governor eke out his 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent victory over Eddie Rispone, but for sending Donald Trump packing. Instead of arrogantly coming to Louisiana for his three wasted campaign trips—failed attempts to secure the state’s top elected seat for a Republican, he could have sat back and relaxed.
We proved to the entire country that Black and progressive voters can make a difference—even in a scarlet red state in the deepest south.
So sure, hats off are in order. We did it! We responded to the call. But . . .
The reality is that turning out in droves to ensure that Eddie Rispone would not move into the governor’s mansion was not some new exploit for us. Look, despite what some would have us believe, voter mobilization has never been an issue for the Black community when we are motivated because we think it will make a difference in our lives. We conduct voter registration drives and get out the vote with the best of them. In fact, Black folk are quite used to saving the day. And everyone knows it.
In 1991, it was Black voters, along with upper-middle class and affluent Whites that gave Edwin Edwards his 61 percent victory over former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. Black voter turnout for that election was 80 percent—roughly the same as White turnout.
Black voters were integral to Bill Clinton’s winning formula—particularly his emergence as the Democratic front runner in the 1992 Democratic primaries. In Louisiana, he got 70 percent of the overall vote, but 86 percent of the Black vote. In fact, his Black voter shares in primaries across the nation outpaced his overall voter shares.
And it was because of the 96 percent of all Black voters in 2008 that Barack Obama made history.
We are not new to this. It’s not some random trick we pull from a top hat. It’s an effort that our community is used to undertaking often without reciprocity and appreciation. In this recent governor’s race, it was an important one, to be sure.
A Rispone administration would have been disastrous for already disenfranchised and marginalized communities throughout our state. We will admit to have taken issue with some of Edwards’ positions. But we have also noted the good—long overdue teacher pay raises, the expansion of Medicaid, and the state’s budget surplus—the highest one since 2012, all of which benefit the entire citizenry of the state, but have done little to speak to the specific needs of Black residents.
A unified Black community had a choice to make—four more years of Edwards, where our communities at least stand a chance to see policy that substantively improves the quality of life of Black residents or our very own Trump-clone who vowed on the night of his second-place primary election win that he would make Louisiana “great again”—you know, like Trump is doing for the rest of the nation.
So we had a choice to make. AND WE MADE IT.
But now what?
If this election reminded us of anything, it’s that we have clout. It’s time that we use it—unapologetically and without fear or trepidation.
After we have voted, it is only right and righteous that we hold accountable those to whom we have rendered our votes and our support. That’s the lesson we don’t follow.
The Clintons, both Hillary and Bill, learned it the hard way in 2008, after Black voters abandoned them in her bid for the Democratic nomination over a number of issues, including that “super-predator” comment and the 1994 crime bill.
See, Black votes have always mattered. More than that, they have repeatedly made the difference. We have that part down to a science. Yet, as well as we have mastered the work of mobilizing Black voters to turnout for this candidate or that one on an election day, where we have failed miserably is mobilizing in ways that ensure that our issues matter just as much—if not more so—in the years that occur between trips to the ballot box.
A Black Agenda
So with that said, we don’t know about the rest of y’all, but here at The New Orleans Tribune, we are sick and tired of the status quo. A pat on the back and “a way to go” just won’t cut it. In fact, let’s stop congratulating ourselves now. We did what we had to do, what we were supposed to do, what we know how to do—and we didn’t do it for Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Let’s make it clear to every one that we elected on Nov. 16, that we didn’t do it for them—we did it for ourselves.
And going forward we have an agenda. And the verbalization of heartfelt gratitude, gratuitous thumbs up, and useless winks, nods and smiles—nope, they are not on the list. Here is what is:
Equity & Opportunities
We demand just what the governor says he will do. The economic gap between African Americans and whites in Louisiana remains a sore point. One in three Black Louisianans live below the federal poverty line compared to the one in five overall rate for residents in the state, Black Louisianans are almost two and a half times as likely as whites to live in poverty. The average White worker earns more than twice as much as an African-American worker in this state. So Gov. Edwards when you start talking about wages and economic opportunity, make sure you are talking about us and to us. A plan that helps all residents of Louisiana similarly isn’t good enough because as it stands now things are about as unequal and uneven as it gets. Workforce training programs need to target disenfranchised communities in unique and intense ways. Equal pay does not start with making sure White women are earning what White men are earning. It starts with ensuring that Black men and women are earning what everyone else is earning—that’s where it starts. And opportunities that lead to increased wages for all Louisianans can only begin when the racial earnings gap between Blacks and Whites in this state is closed.
We demand that the businesses in our community are provided with capacity-building opportunities tied to economic development taking place across the state. Here in New Orleans alone, three major redevelopment projects will soon get underway—the $450 million renovation of the Mercedes Benz Superdome, the $300 million redevelopment of Charity Hospital, and the $557 million Convention Center hotel project. Black owned businesses are the second largest employers of Black people. That means their success is vital to the overall success of Black communities. The governor and elected and appointed officials across the state have the ability to ensure that all major infrastructure and redevelopment projects across the city, state and region utilize Black-owned businesses. The way we see it, 35 percent or even 40 percent of contracts is nothing in comparison to 95 percent of our votes. PERIOD.
And let’s not forget that the hospitality industry is the bread and butter of the local economy. As such, more must be done to ensure that Black-owned, tourism-related businesses and culture bearers share equitably in this thriving economy
Gov. Edwards has promised that building and strengthening early childhood education in Louisiana will be at the top of his efforts in his second term. Communities where underserved, impoverished children live and learn must be at the center of that effort. Because Gov. Edwards has pledged a slim $4.3 million more toward early childhood education statewide, it is critical that its expansion is felt in communities that need it most. We have already mentioned the racial disparities in poverty in this state. For African American children the situation is dire, with close to half (46.4 percent) living in poverty. Education is an equalizer; and a quality education is a path out of poverty.
By the way, let’s be clear that our community is in need of nothing short of the true return to local control of public education and the end to the charter school experiment that has failed our children and marred the landscape in New Orleans. A truly progressive platform would also end other privatization efforts such as vouchers because its been proven that they don’t work either. They only weaken public education. This is one of the failures of Gov. Edward’s platform. Like so many other officials, he tiptoes around the issue, placates the nefarious charter advocates and so-called reformers often funded by out-of-state dark money. What we need is meaningful investment for public education that promotes opportunities for all students regardless of whether they can win a lottery seat at Lusher.
We also want our institutions of higher learning protected. Grambling State University and the Southern University System, including SUNO here in New Orleans are important parts of our community that helped to educate students when other doors were closed to us. What these institutions of higher learning need are equitable funding and resources—not to be threatened with closure every other legislative session. And its clear that our schools and our students are left out of the equation. For examples, Go Grants designed to provide a need-based financial aid program to help non-traditional and low to moderate-income students afford the cost of attending college. And the Southern University System received the smallest allotment, $1.8 million, in both 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years. A classic example of students who need the most, getting the least.
Wait, there is more. In the area of higher education, we need the governor and lawmakers to take a good look at what the TOPs program has become—little more than a cash cow for affluent White families in Louisiana. Meanwhile, Black children, stuck in failing schools and facing all of the other disparate conditions that make their existence more difficult are locked out of the program. Barely 17 percent of TOPS recipients were Black in 2016 and less than 25 percent of them came from homes where the household income was $35,000 or less. This program should be serving our community better especially after this victory for Louisiana Democrats. The program must return to its needs-based roots and the requirements need to be revisited to ensure that students who truly need the hand up are receiving. Otherwise, throw the whole thing away.
We could go on—healthcare, police brutality, and criminal justice reform, just to name a few more areas where we have issues that need special attention.
In fact, just know that if it matters, it matters to Black communities even more. And if the impact is negative—it is disparately more deleterious to our communities. We can no longer afford to give away our votes and demand nothing in return.
We have helped the governor and many others secure their victories. It is time now for them to help Black Louisiana to secure its win.
John Bel Edwards got less than 34 percent of the White vote and won with 95 percent of the Black vote. The issues and challenges that Black Louisianans face must be at the top of the course he charts during his next term in office, or it will be a slap in the face to each and every one of us.
Black Louisianans were responsible for the winner, and that means the winner should be responsive to Black Louisianans.
Black Louisianans were responsible for the winner, and that means the winner should be responsive to Black Louisianans.