On key issues, Holden leads divided city
While Louisiana is officially now a “red” state in terms of national politics, its capital is one of the places where officials ought to think twice about changing to the Republican Party, according to analyst Bernie Pinsonat of Southern Media and Opinion Research.
That’s because of the significant black vote in the parish, which is one of the reasons that the first black mayor-president is likely to be re-elected this fall.
Pinsonat told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the race, in which Holden is challenged by Metro Councilman Mike Walker and two lesser-known candidates, is “closer than I thought it would be.” That is because crime and traffic concerns have eroded Holden’s support among white voters, Pinsonat said — although he noted that the council is, if anything, more unpopular than Holden.
“Crime is a big problem,” Pinsonat added. “It is dominating the fears (of voters) in Baton Rouge.”
All that said, the Nov. 6 election will see a significant turnout of black voters, in part because President Barack Obama is on the ballot for re-election. “At the present time, you’d certainly rather be Kip Holden than Mike Walker, because Kip has a mathematical advantage,” Pinsonat said.
But the larger issue raised by Pinsonat’s talk is what he called the splintering of the city-parish. The controversies over a new bus tax, a new downtown library and the drive for breakaway white-dominated school districts have caused disaffection among the older white voters who are increasingly Republican but had backed Holden.
“A lot of people like to come downtown, but they hate paying a dime to fund it,” Pinsonat said, adding that the anti-tax feeling among older whites is intense — for whatever purpose a tax might be proposed. “They are not comfortable with how their money is being spent.”
The way pollsters look at the electorate, of course, is somewhat different from the way that most people do. Screening for those who are most likely to vote tends to reduce the number of minorities, who tend to be poorer and less likely to vote.
Still, elections are decided by those who show, and seven out of 10 likely voters are over age 50, Pinsonat noted.
Older voters are more likely to own a home, thus more likely to be sensitive to property tax costs — a bit of a contradiction because renters, who are poorer, are not shielded from property taxes by the homestead exemption.
Pinsonat described the bus tax as “unpopular,” even though it passed in the election held in the Baton Rouge and Baker city limits. He explained that people polled living outside the city limits may own businesses or other properties subject to the tax — and those are the older, more-affluent likely voters.
Historically, Baton Rouge as a community was sharply divided, not only by race but between business and labor, and urban and rural. Holden’s breakthrough victory as a black mayor-president in 2004 was followed by a 71 percent re-election victory in 2008.
Now, those unifying years appear very distant.
Where is the future direction of East Baton Rouge Parish as a community in light of these divisions, racial and economic? That is a question no amount of polling is likely to answer.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for
The Advocate. His e-mail address is