Louisiana is, to understate it drastically, an interesting state. It is an epicenter for diverse cultures and events not typically seen anywhere in the U.S., let alone the Deep South. And yet, it is one of the reddest states in the country. Why?
To start, Louisiana is an oil-and-gas state. Its people are largely religious and socially conservative. Businesses are widely seen as saintly as, well, the Saints. The state’s top leadership is a virtual Republican monopoly. In a sense, Louisiana’s steady migration from Democrat to Republican seems natural, if not inevitable.
But even Republicans will lose in the long-term if Louisiana slides so deeply into a one-party system. Why? Look no further than Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform. It’s revolutionary, and not for a good reason. Such an unabashed kickback to parochial and charter schools would not have happened had there been a healthy ideological balance in state government. A “yes man” autocracy is a disaster in the making for any leader, regardless of affiliation.
Republicans don’t shoulder all the blame for that; Democrats have been inconsistent in their opposition. The party’s label has become toxic enough that many state Democrats switch to Republican just to have a chance at the polls. That stigma is in part due to Louisiana’s longstanding reputation as a pit of one-party (Democrat/Dixiecrat) corruption. Another aspect is outnumbered progressive citizens either hesitant to speak out or discouraged that it will do much good.
I wouldn’t say the ratio of liberal to conservative in Louisiana is anywhere close to even, but it’s also not as one-sided as its leadership would suggest. The difference is largely one of confidence.
By and large, people here assume that you’re a Republican — specifically, that you’re a far-right, tea party-leaning neoconservative. They’re the ones who offer forth their opinion in public with confidence. Conservatives freely affix bumper stickers advocating their candidates and stances, but an Obama sticker is more likely to meet and greet a baseball bat.
Coming out as liberal — or otherwise being critical of conservatism or unchecked capitalism in any way — can lead to horrified reactions from otherwise loving people. They take it as personally as if you declined to eat their home-cooked seafood dish. (I’ve had plenty of point-and-shriek moments on both counts.) This usually results in liberals being far less confident and effective than their conservative counterparts. For candidates, it’s political suicide.
Being born and raised in south Louisiana, I didn’t fully see just how deep this attitude is rooted until I moved away. I lived in Missouri for four years — itself not the most secular or progressive state. But I noticed right away that liberals, despite being the minority there, weren’t reticent. It was the first time in my life that I regularly ran into people who would espouse left-of-center views to a total stranger. The newspaper for which I worked published columns from readers, and they ran a far more diverse spectrum of views than I was used to here. The liberal writers frequently defied stereotypes — many were older, white, male business owners and even preachers. The free and frank exchange of ideas was a tremendous eye-opener. The difference became even more stark when I moved back to Louisiana and saw the political climate through new eyes.
Plenty of progressive people live in Louisiana. We’re not a tiny sliver of the population. At least, not as small as our say in state affairs would suggest. What we need to do is match the confidence and the clout of conservatives. Show our increasingly disaffected fellow citizens that alternatives exist — alternatives that don’t oppose their best interests as much as they might think, wherever they stand.
After all, Louisiana is our home too.