By Cyril Vetter
I was born and raised in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. When I grew up in the 1950s, it was cool to be stupid. Smart kids, kids who studied, were “fruits” — but if you acted stupid (whether you actually were or not), smoked cigarettes and didn’t try in school, you were cool. If you aspired to more than slamming Falstaff and Sloe Gin at the Town and Country Club on Friday and Saturday nights (after eating delicious rabbit spaghetti you could buy for a quarter at the Knights of Columbus hall), you had no place in the “in crowd.”
In many ways, the Donaldsonville of the 1950s has been writ large by our state and its governor.
On a drive West last summer, I overnighted in Las Cruces, New Mexico. On University Avenue, banners proudly trumpeted New Mexico State University as a U.S. News Tier One University. Tier One — in a place that is so barren, so hot, with no water, no oil, no fisheries, no agriculture . . . no anything. Except a Tier One public university.
We should be ashamed and embarrassed. I am. The tired trope that Louisiana is a “poor state” is a red herring and a copout for incompetence, greed and corruption. We’ve been gifted the richest patrimony of any state in this country. Maybe of anyplace in the world. Yes, it gets hot and humid in July, August and September, but that’s offset by Creole tomatoes.
How did we screw this up so badly? It’s like inheriting a fortune and frittering it away buying racehorses or playing video poker. We pay dearly, and continuously, for our dissipation.
We have one of the highest HIV rates in America — New Orleans and Baton Rouge rank second and third among U.S. cities, respectively — and an administration that refuses to accept the bounty of the Affordable Care Act to address the need for medical care for working class citizens. So they go to emergency rooms, increasing the cost of health care for us all and ultimately forcing closure of some ERs — or they go without medical care and call in sick, which costs their employers.
Our state likewise ranks high on other “bad” lists — for rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, illiteracy, high school dropouts, low birth weight babies and more. We also have the highest incarceration rate in the civilized world and marijuana laws that imprison a disproportionate number of young black males for doing the north Louisiana equivalent of drinking beer.
In the face of all this, we have a governor who, although he is a graduate of an Ivy League university, continues to demonstrate his solidarity with 1950s Donaldsonville by championing policies that are not future focused and seem oblivious to the competitive realities of today’s globally connected economy. Continue reading