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King George James' bad bill tries to slay St. George

One particularly bad prefiled bill for the Louisiana Legislature’s upcoming regular session betrays both an authoritarian impulse and admission of policy defeat.

HB 15 by Democrat state Rep. Ted James would alter state law regarding creation of new municipalities, but targeted at just one parish. If enacted, no longer would incipient municipalities in East Baton Rouge Parish merely need to obtain majority voter approval from those in the area wishing to incorporate; it also would require a majority of the parish’s electors as well.

Such policy dramatically departs not just from Louisiana law, but that generally among America’s states. No state allows voters from surrounding local governments to have any say over the wishes of unincorporated areas; the closest strictures to that are prohibition of incorporating within a certain distance of another municipality without its consent or having the state or a county-level government organ decide rather than putting the matter to a vote of those in the area petitioning for incorporation. Having just one part of a state operate under a different law than the rest of it is unprecedented.

Two motivations underpin this assault on the traditional bias towards autonomy of residents in an area. First, two years ago a move to incorporate a city of St. George that would include most of the unincorporated area of the parish failed only when legal shenanigans denied a vote, and backers of that promised another try when the proscriptive period under state law ended – no doubt fueled with the election of Democrat Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, a critic of the proposed city. Second, the politically ambitious James has a habit of inserting himself into high-profile controversies, and with the ascension of Broome into the most powerful position in the parish for as many as a dozen years to come he needs to find ways to keep his brand out there.

Making the parish an exception drips with purely political calculation. A general bill applying statewide would have no chance of passing as most legislators elsewhere would prefer their constituents have the right to trigger incorporations without interference from parish residents whose governance would remain unaffected by the incorporation. But James banks upon the traditional deference that legislators give to colleagues regarding matters within a delegation’s boundaries to let this one through.

Ugly logic lies behind this procedural change. The St. George movement developed from citizens perceiving lack of responsiveness from, primarily, the East Baton Rouge Parish School System – historically, the Legislature has authorized carving out school districts from existing ones only if built around a municipality – and, secondarily, city-parish government. James wishes to entrap free citizens who seek only the right to govern themselves in certain matters, as giving a veto power to the remainder of East Baton Rouge Parish likely would produce a majority to defeat a St. George incorporation, being as the minority population of the St. George area disproportionately finances government services enjoyed by the majority outside of it.

In this respect, it becomes a battle between St. George and King George, for James’ attitude mirrors that of the English sovereign that would not allow the American colonies, whose people objected to many facets of British rule, to engage in self-rule. With this bill, James mocks the very notions behind American government, using its own institutions to subvert the ideas on which these were founded.

This authoritarianism stems from the understanding by James and others on the political left concering the specific situation in the parish: increasingly money-hungry governments whose spending priorities continue sliding away from optimizing economic growth and towards pursuing a warped vision of the mirage called social justice depend upon financing from those in parts of the parish whose agendas reverse that ordering. Those who want smaller government who disproportionately pay for expanding government in the parish want out, and Broome, James, and others want to keep them captive.

In other words, these elites’ agenda cannot succeed without forcible participation of those who see that agenda as inimical to their own interests. That reveals a stunning concession by elites of the failure of their agenda as a self-sustaining public policy. Simply, the inferior nature of their ideas has prompted a stampede of voting with feet, and only by denying this freedom of mobility can their policies survive.

This bill truly stinks, and enough in the area delegation should warn against it to signal to their colleagues out of the area that a disunited delegation cancels the norm of deference. Thusly, the bill should die in the Legislature, just like a similar attempt by James in 2014.

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