Is St. George Inevitable?
St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey III announced Tuesday that 17,076 registered voters have signed petitions to create the proposed new City of St. George, which would comprise all of the unincorporated parts of East Baton Rouge south and east of the City of Baton Rouge.
That means organizers of the St. George movement are within striking distance of 18,000 signatures or one-fourth of the number needed to bring the proposition to a vote of the people. Only residents of the proposed city will get to vote.
Organizers face a July 23 deadline to get the proposal on the ballot for the Nov. 4 election. However, they now say they will not attempt that because they want to turn in at least 20,000 signatures, in order to have enough signatures to overcome any which may be invalidated as inaccurate or duplicates. If they miss the July 23 date, organizers could submit the petitions in October in order to be on the Dec. 6 ballot or they could wait until the April 2015 election.
The city of 107,000 people would be the 5th largest city in Louisiana. Organizers have already announced they plan to make it a
privatized city like the City of Central (pop. 27,000), Louisiana only privatized city government.
As organizers of the St. George movement grow closer and closer to having the required number of signatures, opinions seem to be hardening for and against incorporation. However, most of the organized opposition to St. George comes from outside the proposed city. Few vocal opponents reside in St. George.
Supporters of St. George say polling data has consistently shown that a majority of voters in the City of St. George favor creation of the city and an even larger number favor creation of an independent school district based around St. George.
In an interview this week, one of the Baton Rouge area’s most successful businessmen who says he is neutral on St. George, told the Capital City News, “St. George will never happen. It will never even get on the ballot, and if it does, it will be defeated. You’re just seeing some of the opposition right now. But if St. George gets the signatures, you will see the opposition come out of the woodwork. They will pour money into an opposition campaign. You’ve never seen as much direct mail and media as will be dropped to make sure St. George doesn’t happen.”
By contrast, a Democratic strategist who opposes St. George said, “Honestly, we’re going to do everything we possibly can to stop St. George. We see at as a future conservative Republican stronghold, and that is unacceptable. But, ultimately, the people of St. George are the only ones voting, and we are not strong there. If I had to bet my life, I’d say it passes 60-40 or 65-35.”
St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey III said the continuous attacks against St. George, especially the race-baiting, seem to have exactly the opposite of the intended result. “Every time the incorporation effort is attacked, we get a surge of supportive phone calls, more volunteers, and more petition signatures. People in the southeast part of the parish do not appreciate being called racists and irresponsible. These are good people, trying to do something good for their community and future generations. This has already been done before right in this parish. Zachary has created the No. 1 school district in the state. Central has created a new city and one of the top school systems in Louisiana. We’re not re-creating the wheel,” Rainey said.
Ultimately, the success or failure of St. George at the ballot box could hinge on one relatively simple thing: The signatures on the incorporation petitions.
That list of interested voters will become the base of St. George’s campaign. If they go to the polls and vote, it’s difficult to see how the incorporation referendum could be defeated. With voter turnout usually below 50 percent even in high profile elections, it would only take 25 percent of the voters to approve the proposition.
And, if it does get to the ballot box, St. George will already have 25 percent of the voters signed on the dotted line. It will just be a matter of getting those who signed the petition to actually go to the polls and vote — not a guarantee but a far easier task than identifying the opponents and getting them to vote.