How do the voting odds stack up for the council split?

The gist: The charter amendment proposition is at the mercy of a low-turnout election that features a pair of taxes and a lackluster secretary of state race. Organized and adequately funded advocacy for the change could squeak out a win where full deconsolidation failed. 

Last time deconsolidation was on the ballot, it got clobbered. Before you pitchfork me, Charter Fixers, I understand this isn’t exactly deconsolidation. But it’s the best analog available to set a basis for comparison.

That was October 2011, a big state and local ballot year. Turnout was fine, by relative standards, with 34 percent of registered Lafayette Parish voters participating. The results were predictable. Bobby Jindal took home 71 percent of the local vote. State Rep. Joel Robideaux coasted to re-election with a 58-point margin in the parish. Voters rejected a $561 million bond proposition from the school board by a wide margin. And they said “nah,” 63 percent to 37 percent, to a full-stop dissolution of consolidated government following a one-sided race in favor of the status quo.  

Turnout is expected to be low. And that could favor the charter amendment, says UL Lafayette political science prof Pearson Cross. “I think it would at least give them a chance,” he says. Cross says voters tend to resist change, and they didn’t go for the last major attempt at restructuring local government. Around 2,000 early ballots had been cast as of Wednesday afternoon, reflecting a slower rate than October’s vote. Cross says he could see voter participation of less than 20 percent.

This is a different proposition with different dynamics. Deconsolidation faced an uphill battle. True PAC, a political action committee founded to fight the effort, raised around $30,000 and garnered support from big names in local politics. Don Bacqué, a former state rep and charter commission member, formed True PAC. He now backs the charter amendment and has lent his voice to Fix the Charter PAC, the campaign supporting the split. That’s a major dynamic flip. Fix the Charter has raised around $40,000 for this effort and will hit the streets this week with mailers and an upbeat ground game.

Original charter framers support the change. Five members of the nine-person charter commission that proposed consolidation in the early 1990s have signed on in support of split council amendment, arguing in a statement that the charter, as LCG’s constitution, was always intended to be honed. 

“The proposed amendments to the charter improve on our original vision,” the statement reads. “While there is no perfect proposal, these amendments are a step in the right direction.” 

Ed Abell, James Jackson, Jean Kreamer, Paul Colomb and Alan D. Hebert are signatories to the endorsement. 

Opposition is scattered. That doesn’t mean it won’t be effective. Activist conservatives aligned with Citizens for a New Louisiana/Lafayette Citizens Against Taxes oppose the proposition. Michael Lunsford, executive director of Citizens for a New Louisiana, says the groups will be sending mailers, targeting issues on the Dec. 8 ballot — “That’s what we do,” he tells me — but didn’t specify whether the campaign would single the charter amendment out. LCAT, the Facebook portal for Citizens founded by Lunsford and others, has hammered the proposition as a “non-fix” cooked up to raise taxes.

LCAT’s opposition has taken a wide berth. At one time, the page posted speculation that the proposition could be a Trojan Horse built to sell LUS. Former LUS Director Terry Huval has since endorsed the charter split as a way of protecting LUS. Most recently, LCAT suggested that several key figures in the Fix the Charter movement — former LCG Public Works Director Kevin Blanchard, former Planning Director Carlee Alm-LaBar,  former city-parish attorney Stuart Breaux and Councilman Jay Castille — are pushing the split for the benefit of their employer, Southern Lifestyle Development. Voiced as a question, the innuendo falls short of a direct, baseless claim (none of the parties are named). 

Regardless of truth or variety, the scattershot opposition could nevertheless be effective. It does fall short of a concerted, well-financed campaign, however. 

“I haven’t seen real mobilization against it,” says Cross of the charter amendment opposition in general. “It could be that they’re banking on people not going for the last one.”  

A city fix that’s up to the parish? That’s how I’ve generally read it. It’s part of the perversion of consolidation: city residents will have their government determined by people who don’t live there.

But consider this: The 2011 deconsolidation vote, which would have delivered full autonomy to the city of Lafayette, arguably died in the city. While parish voters overwhelmingly opposed it, the deconsolidation campaign failed to deliver large portions of the city.

Fix the Charter’s success may depend on winning the debate within city limits. 

Disclosure: Southern Lifestyle Development has advertised in The Current. 

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