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Monday, Jan. 27, 2020

We Are Whom We Elect

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Why keep making the same choices and expect different results?

Mayor Perkins’ administration recently announced that growing industrial hemp (which the Louisiana Legislature legalized in 2019) might represent, in part, the future of economic development in Shreveport. After all, by 2022, hemp sales in the United States are expected to be $2.6 billion.

And we know it will grow here – the climate here is conducive. We have long growing seasons, abundant rainfall and plenty of sunshine. It grows best in deep, humus-rich soil, and we have lots of that here in Louisiana. It’s relatively insensitive to cold temperatures, and hemp thrives in hot weather, anyway.

So, it’s no wonder the number of hemp growers in Louisiana will soon be increasing. Nearly all of the conditions needed are present – right here at home – for it to flourish wildly as a product of our environment.

And this got me thinking about the old saying that we – as individuals – are also a product of our environment. About how if we want to grow or be more, we must likewise change our environment, if we’re going to flourish. It’s the old adage, “The grass is greener where you water it.”

And the same is true for our community, I believe. Yes, there are families and businesses moving away from here, and across the river, or clear across the country. Our population is declining, and economic activity is not what it could be.

But how much of that is just happenstance – and how much of this is a result of the environment we’ve created here? Some might call it an atmosphere of corruption, where skimming off the top or deal-making from under the table to enrich a few family and friends at the expense of the many citizens paying the bills, is both expected and rewarded, with re-election after reelection to public office.

Going back to just 1994, for example, we elected a Shreveport city councilman who was later convicted for soliciting a bribe of $1,500 for helping a citizen with a zoning change. Then we had a Shreveport city councilman arrested for simple battery and drunken driving (on different occasions), who then refused to pay his campaign fines to the State Board of Ethics. Then we elected a Caddo Parish commissioner who voted to funnel $100,000 of Caddo taxpayer money to his own “non-profit” organization (without telling anyone that), and then used it all as his personal piggy bank. Then we proceeded to elect a Caddo Parish commissioner (twice) who later would be charged in the alleged theft of $500,000 from a program meant to supply meals to disadvantaged children.

We also elected a Shreveport city councilman who stole $10,000 from a car rental agency and elected a Caddo Parish commissioner who has been ticketed multiple times for driving a vehicle with a switched license plate, no proof of insurance and failure to even register his vehicle. We elected a handful of Caddo Parish commissioners who ended up taking around $250,000 of taxpayer money for their own retirement, even though any taxpayerfunded retirement is seemingly prohibited by law in Louisiana for part-time elected officials.

We’ve even elected (and re-elected) a Shreveport mayor who was apparently subpoenaed, and later testified before a federal grand jury, regarding an FBI sting operation exposing public officials who used their elected offices to obtain cash and other things of value in return.

Most recently, we elected a mayor of Shreveport that apparently awarded city insurance contracts illegally (according the city’s internal auditor’s report), then spent (at least) $7 million in unadvertised, no-bid sewer repairs under “emergency declarations” that were never filed, and paid the first cousin of his campaign manager a $250,000 commission, even after the city council refused to authorize such payments (and despite the city charter’s apparent prohibition against the mayor doing that in the first place).

We’ve had the boondoggle of Elio Motors, and the prospect of the city buying 88 acres of contaminated land along Cross Bayou, just give it to private developers who want the city to enter into a binding “public/ private” partnership with them, but who apparently can’t even get the name of their “consortium” correct in their paperwork (and then they go off to Delaware to form a separate entity altogether, where they can better conceal the details of their enterprise).

So, when people say, “I’m so tired about hearing this or that” regarding incompetence or corruption (and sometimes both) at City Hall or elsewhere, remember that it’s not about any particular issue or individual – it’s about making as many of us aware of the facts, so that more and more of us will choose candidates on the ballot who are more genuinely interested in the next generation than their resume or next election.

It’s about achieving reforms in how we govern our community, despite the deeply entrenched political culture standing in our way.

The bottom line is that when corrupt individuals get away with their bad deeds without being punished or exposed, it emboldens other greedy people to go along (to get along) in the rigged system. You see, corruption is a crime of calculation, and unless we change the odds for those doing the deeds, there will be more snake-oil salesmen, charlatans and swindlers lining up at our door.

If we say or do nothing to change, then maybe we’re not products of our environment after all.

Maybe it’s really that we are products of our choices.

Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac.com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.

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