High Stakes and High Hopes: The Senate Race and Louisiana’s Environmental Future

Maris Jones
Dec 8, 2016 · 5 min read
Image Credit: Matt Northam

U.S. elections are not over and Louisiana is in the spotlight.

While my state draws folks in with our jazz, Mardi Gras, alligator hunting, and unparalleled cuisine, it might behoove y’all to pay attention to what happens in Louisiana’s senatorial runoff election between Foster Campbell (D) and John Kennedy (R). The final Senate seat is up for grabs and Louisiana voters will decide whether or not to make a bad situation worse. In a last hopeful effort, Democrats from around the country have been pouring time, energy, and financial support into Campbell’s campaign.

This Saturday, December 10, 2016, Louisiana residents will not only choose our next senator, but we will also fill two open seats in the House of Representatives, and host of other local offices. Unfortunately, voter turnout is historically low for runoffs and December elections in general. Last week when I went to vote, the polls were deserted. Less than 6 percent of Louisiana’s registered voters cast their ballots during the early voting period.

Individual votes are going to matter more than ever this weekend.

The Republican contender, five-term Louisiana state treasurer John Kennedy, is an avid supporter of Donald Trump and his policies. In fact, the President-elect is scheduled to visit Baton Rouge, LA for his Victory Tour on Friday to show his support for the conservative candidate. In a red state that hasn’t gone blue since electing Bill Clinton, Trump’s visit could be the nail in the coffin of Democrat dreams. For every Campbell ad I have seen on television or heard on the radio since Election Day, Kennedy has three more affirming his pro-life belief that “Congress should overturn Roe vs Wade” — a scary thought for anyone with a uterus.

Former state senator Foster Campbell, the Democratic candidate, has a long history advocating for the working class and standing up for issues like equal pay, increasing minimum wage, and disability rights. He has also committed to defending our coast. Campbell believes in anthropogenic climate change because the Pope says so and it’s a “priority” for him. That’s great news for his potential future constituency and the rest of the world that committed to fighting climate change by signing the Paris Agreement last year.

Located in the Deep South, Louisiana is one of the states most vulnerable to climate change in the country. From New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the floods that engulfed the greater Baton Rouge area in 2016, Louisiana residents live with the constant threat of natural disasters and sea level rise. I have family members whose homes were destroyed during Katrina and settled in Baton Rouge, only to lose everything for a second time in this year’s floods. What’s more, Louisiana is also home to the one of the nation’s first climate displaced populations, a Native American community from Isle de Jean Charles currently in the process of being relocated. We cannot afford to elect a climate denier like John Kennedy into office.

The President-elect’s attempt to “drain the swamp” by filling it with more anti-environmentalist billionaires, ironically won’t do much to protect Louisiana’s coast which loses a football field of wetlands every hour. Coastal erosion leaves us unprotected in the face of powerful storms. This issue is exacerbated by oil and gas extraction in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as dredging canals to transport said fossil fuels, with minimal regulation. Moreover, there are more than 15,000 miles of pipelines snaking through Louisiana that have slowly but surely been poisoning land-owning Black communities for decades.

Between the 2010 BP oil spill destroying the seafood industry and livelihoods of many Vietnamese-Americans and the constant lure of more jobs from oil and gas companies, the fossil fuel industry continues to prey on all of the residents of Louisiana. These same companies line the pockets of politicians, like outgoing Sen. David Vitter (R) and candidate John Kennedy, to look the other way. With Scott Pruitt as Trump’s pick for head of the Environmental Protection Agency, marginalized communities of color don’t stand a chance. Our lives depend on not putting Kennedy in office to further Trump’s pro-fossil fuel agenda.

I never thought I would advocate this much for an old white guy, but the world needs Foster Campbell to be elected as much as Louisiana does.

After his win last month, all eyes have been on Donald Trump, the steps he’s taking to “make America great again,” and not much else. To those on the Left, the imminent “greatness” to come after Inauguration Day feels like waiting for a death sentence. With Trump as president selecting new Supreme Court justices, control of the House and Senate, and more than half of state governorships, the GOP will dominate governance of the United States for the first time since 1928. However, while a Republican majority has been established in Congress, the outcome of the Campbell vs Kennedy runoff will determine by just how much.

The result of this election could shift the dynamic of what’s to come.

A win for Foster Campbell could help Democrats make it harder for Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress to push their agenda. Right now, that’s the best we can hope for. At present, Republicans have claimed 51 out of 100 Senate seats. Having a Democrat fill the last one would help maintain a balance of political power in the Senate between Democrats and Republicans at 49–51 respectively. This is important because that’s one less vote needed across the aisle in the Senate when decisions are being made about environmental policy, Obamacare, confirmation of federal judges, and other important issues.

But, how likely is a Campbell win?

Not very, according to the polls showing John Kennedy ahead with about 55 percent of the vote and Foster Campbell coming in at around 37 percent, with the rest undecided. But, if we learned anything from Hillary Clinton’s loss, it’s that polls can be wrong. When it comes to politics, the ever talked about rural-urban divide makes for an interesting negotiation between the southeast and northern regions of Louisiana. The same state where just over 58 percent of the electorate voted for Donald Trump, also just elected Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) last fall and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) three times in the last twenty years. Neither Campbell nor Kennedy will save my state, but one of these men has clearly aligned himself with Trump’s policies, as detrimental as they are to the environmental condition of Louisiana. We need a senator who will represent the interests of Louisiana residents, not just someone declaring allegiance to a political party. One can only hope that with such environmental high stakes, Louisiana voters will show up on Saturday for their state and themselves. The nation and the world are counting on us.

Maris Jones

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unapologetically Blacktivist scholar | New Orleans native