Author Archives: Ian McGibboney

A way of driving voters away?

Today I got a new driver’s license to reflect my weekend move from Baton Rouge to Lafayette. I did so as fast as I could to make the deadline for voting in the November elections. The deadline is 30 days prior to the Nov. 6 election — so if you aren’t sure about your current registration status, check it this week!

According to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website, voters are required to present identification such as driver’s license, Special ID or “some other generally recognized picture ID that contains your name and signature.” Voters who don’t possess any of the above can bring “a utility bill, payroll check or government document that includes their name and address.” Voters with such documents “will have to sign an affidavit furnished by the Elections Division in order to vote.” As far as voting requirements go, this seems fair; it balances the integrity of the polls with accessibility for citizens.

I’ve spent 10 of my 14 voting years in Louisiana, and have never had a problem either voting or registering to do so. I voted in my first election before I had a driver’s license, using my college ID. A year later, I changed my address three weeks before an election, but still was able to vote at my previous precinct. Since then, it’s been smooth sailing everywhere I’ve lived.

Knock on wood.

One of the big political stories of 2012 has been the push toward more stringent voter laws nationwide. Though Louisiana hasn’t been among the major players in this push, the state shares the conservative makeup that most of the states involved have in common. Mandatory picture ID for voters could absolutely happen here in the near future.

Critics — I’m raising my hand here — contend that photo-ID laws are less about curbing voter fraud than about curbing voters, period. In a sense, it’s a genius political calculation by Republicans, who would benefit from the reduced influx of poor, minority, college and elderly voters for whom narrow ID standards can be an obstacle, and can disguise that de facto purge as upholding poll integrity. And who could possibly be against voter integrity?

Well, my trip to the DMV reminded me exactly why I’m against voter integrity — at least as the ID proponents define it.

In Lafayette, the DMV office is located at the very north edge of town near Carencro, on a frontage road off I-49. It’s the only one in the entire city, and people often confuse it with a police station on another frontage road (which, for a long time after the new DMV opened, had a stack of fliers pointing visitors to the correct location). The DMV’s isolated location is accessible almost exclusively by car, adjacent only to a Mexican restaurant whose core business is probably weary licensees. For those relying on the bus, their own two feet or a walker, it might as well be Emerald City. Even if you do get there, you’d better have the right papers and cash, just in case. Some don’t. Some never have.

As long as ID offices are less ubiquitous than polling stations, stringent ID laws are going to disenfranchise some (or many) legit voters — citizens whose only crime is lack of access to offices and/or proper documentation. For those making the push, this outcome is exactly what they want.

Let’s make sure anyone wanting to bring Louisiana into this poisonous movement has an equally tough road ahead.

Dear Rep. Jeff Landry,

I’ve been following with great interest your correspondence with UL Lafayette President E. Joseph Savoie, urging him to rescind the university’s new LGBT studies minor.

It’s my hope that Savoie will heed your wise advice and avoid “placating to political pressures.” Not listening to you would be a good start.

For one thing, one does not placate to political pressures; one placates political pressures. Placating is a thing someone does, not something they do to someone else. Perhaps Savoie could bow to or even kowtow to political pressure, but that would just make you sound vicious.

Forgive the vocabulary lesson, but I couldn’t let it slide. Like you, I’m a graduate of UL, having received my communications degree there in 2002 and a master’s degree in English in 2005. I attended at the tail end of the Ray Authement eon, when the school enjoyed major physical and academic upgrades. Savoie is continuing that process and I applaud him for it. Whatever his personal feelings on the LGBT issue, he has decided that our school will keep pace with social progress. It’s a terrific step in a state not exactly known for its progressiveness — and rapidly gaining a national reputation for its hostility to public education.

You surely know all about that hostility, given that your remarks to Savoie exude it. You seem to think that the LGBT minor is something assembled at gunpoint for the express purpose of winning some political pissing match. You imply that “the future of our students and their economic prospects” is somehow threatened by the option (!) of taking courses that highlight the trials our LGBT friends face.

But the lesson that college most impressed on me was that exposure to a variety of viewpoints is absolutely essential to critical thinking. LGBT-centered classes aren’t going to turn students into gay welfare cases any more than listening to conservative poli-sci professors turned me into a Republican, or taking feminist courses made me a woman.

If only university courses had so much power! Imagine if all it took to eradicate bigotry, discrimination and parochial narrow-mindedness was a college minor. Man! Though opposing forces would just as quickly concoct programs to brainwash students right back, so it’s probably for the best. Still, I’ll invest in the value of education any day. It might not automatically change anyone’s beliefs, but it can teach them that love, understanding and friendship aren’t confined to one group, race or sexual orientation.

The weirdest part about your resistance is that the courses comprising the LGBT minor already exist within the UL curriculum; they’re simply being compiled for the sake of the minor. Theoretically, you could leaf through the UL course listings and tie together your own minor if you like — though good luck finding a series of courses that would compose an intolerance curriculum. You might have to dig into the state’s more extremist, voucher-vacuuming private schools for that.

While you’re searching for those courses, Rep. Landry, you also might want to audit one on irony. See, your anti-government and anti-education rhetoric might kill at a tea party rally, but you’re The Man now — an elected official in the U.S. House of Representatives, which is about as Big Government as big government gets. So don’t be surprised if Savoie resists your campaign of pressure; he’ll only be heeding your advice.

Geaux Cajuns!

Sincerely, Ian McGibboney

UL alum

Everyone deserves a party

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.

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