Everything That’s Old Is New Again. But Is That Good for New Orleans?

State interference in New Orleans politics has a long and storied history.  Race and power are now and have always been the primary stimuluses of the political drama.  In the past, Louisiana’s  segregationists denied New Orleans African Americans political power.  The latest attack by Governor Jeff Landry and the supermajority Republican legislature seek control over the majority black  New Orleans political power base.  Ironically, previous attempts to promote and maintain white political power strangle and limit the latest attempts limit black political power.

If you think Jeff Landry is interfering in New Orleans politics, you need to check out what those Long brothers did.  Huey P. Long and his little brother Earl served as governor on four separate occasions.  As governor, each Long infuriated New Orleanians by unprecedentedly interfering in New Orleans politics. One of the biggest things Huey Long did was to help black people vote in New Orleans.   His interference was so bad, that people protested in the streets.

Are We Coming Full Circle?

Like Jeff Landry, Huey Long hit the ground running.  Huey Long controversially insisted that all voters should be able to vote free of charge.  And he insisted that even African Americans get a free public education in Louisiana.  But he didn’t stop there.  He gave access to healthcare to all – even African Americans.  These changes greatly benefited African Americans. However, local white New Orleanians hated the dramatic shift.  To protect their right to govern themselves and combat state interference, these segregationists fought to create a strong home rule charter.  They wanted to protect the city of New Orleans from future disruptive state interference. 

Earl Long was less charismatic than Huey but equally influential.  He first became governor when he succeeded Gov Richard Leche who resigned after stealing federal funds.  But after his election, Long continued to help register African Americans to vote.  Controversial til the end, Long is infamous for a political slogan that helped him gather both black and white votes:

“I’m the best friend the poor white man and the colored man ever had … but I’m a thousand percent for segregation!

Nonetheless, Long used the governor’s office to disrupt New Orleans politics.  His interference allowed over 100,000 African Americans to register and vote. And then New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Morrison shared the political vision of Long.  Each straddled the race relations fence.  Needing votes from both races, Morrison simultaneously supported the development of the nationally significant African American neighborhood Pontchartrain Park while having NOPD officers stand down against the virulent crowds attacking Ruby Bridges as she integrated New Orleans schools. 

Related: Is Gov Landry Trying to Takeover New Orleans

Long and Morrison worked together to create the most effective home rule charter in the state.  New Orleans’ charter gives New Orleans mayors powerful appointing power on boards and commissions and protects the city from state interference in local matters.  Morrison’s desired to appease the strong and vibrant white supremacist political class because he wanted  to become governor himself. So he worked with Long’s successor, Robert Kennon to draft and implement the charter. 

A staunch segregationist and constitutional expert , Kennon worked to insure New Orleans segregationists could exert complete control over New Orleans political power with the new charter. Kennon worked to stop any meddling governor from controlling local ordinances like granting African Americans more voting rights or access to local assets like swimming pools and lunch counters. Kennon put the power of the state constitution into the new New Orleans Home Rule Charter.

Which brings us to our current governor.  He and the legislature are pushing unparalleled and creative attacks on the power of the New Orleans mayor. This interference is comparable to the changes both Gov Longs made.  Ironically, the work of that old segregationist Gov Kennon is protecting the rights of African Americans today. Talk about spinning in your grave. Do you think Kennon could imagine his work would strengthen Black power? But just like the brash and bold Huey Long, Jeff Landry is a man on a mission.  And he is turning the state in a new direction as quickly as he can.   

Are We Coming Full Circle?

Landry formed a Sewerage and Water Board Committee, created a police force to patrol the city and assigned special prosecutors to litigate the cases. Landry’s entire run for office was anti-New Orleans.  New proposed legislation limits the appointing authority of the mayor over several powerful boards and commissions. And remarkably Landry is getting help from local legislators. Many offered bills that reduce the strong mayor model in New Orleans. At the pace some of these legislators are going, Landry can just sit back and let the New Orleans delegation do his bidding.

New Orleans City Council members are also working to transform the power structure of the city.  Councilmembers at Large Helena Moreno and J.P. Morrell want to take power from the mayor and give that power to the  the city council.  “I’m in favor of changing how we do government in New Orleans,” said Morrell on WBOK radio.  Moreno consistently advocates and votes to diminish the power of the executive branch. Moreno’s attacks on Mayor LaToya Cantrell are surprising, considering many consider her to be a top contender for the next Mayor’s election.

Is This Good for the City

But local political squabbles are good for the city.  When city council members disagree with the mayor, they should stand up for their beliefs.  Local council members must represent their constituencies.  However, when these squabbles create new laws in the shadow of a looming constitutional convention then that’s something different. The more we weaken the power of the mayor on the local level, the easier it will be to undo the strong and powerful city charter.  Then any meddling governor can interfere as they want with the city.

“When Dutch Morial was mayor, there was an effort to take over Audubon zoo and park. And when he was mayor, state officials fought against reforming the Sewerage and Water Board. In fact, since New Orleans started electing African American mayors, the state tried to dilute control or take over critical city assets. We are competent and smart enough to run this city”

New Orleans Councilman Oliver Thomas

Huey and Earl Long worked to move Louisiana in a progressive direction.  Jeff Landry wants to move Louisiana in a conservative direction. If you live in New Orleans you gotta wonder if everything that’s old is new again is a good thing.

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Gov Jeff Landry is Kinda Like Huey P. Long © 2024 by Jeff Thomas is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

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