Service Rather Than Leadership

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Commentary by Kameko Thomas

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, father of Black History Month, and author of “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” said this of those who sought leadership through the eyes of the public, as opposed to doing the work of a public servant:

“He is restricted in his sphere to small things, and with this he becomes satisfied. His ambition does not rise any higher than to plunge into the competition with his fellows for these trifles. At the same time, those who have given the race such false ideals are busy in the higher spheres from which Negroes by their mis-education and racial guidance have been disbarred.”

I mention this because I’d first like to set the stage for both irony and blatant hypocrisy on behalf of current State Representative Barbara Norton.

I won’t insult your intelligence by going over the facts concerning redistricting here in Louisiana. By now, everyone knows that the resulting loss in the state’s population has necessitated redrawing legislative districts, and now it seems that every politician who has something to gain by keeping things as they are has shamelessly continued jockeying for position.

And Ms. Norton is no different.

I have a question for you: Why did an African-American politician, understanding the stark political realities that African Americans face, and who also represents a majority African-American legislative district –88 percent, in fact– lobby AGAINST creating a new minority district here in Shreveport?

Isn’t it obvious?

Well, if it’s not, let me spell it out for you: The new legislative district, had it not been defeated by the House, would have included parts of Southern Hills, a majority white part of town.

Need I say more?

This change in her voting demographic, especially in light of the state legislature’s desire to have these changes approved and implemented in time for October elections, spells trouble for Ms. Norton. Her concern was that she wouldn’t have been a “shoo-in” for re-election under the newly drawn district, and in her desperation to maintain the tenuous grip on her “trifles,” she has betrayed her constituents by siding with Republicans in their efforts to further dilute African Americans’ right to fair and proper representation.

In her very passionate opposition to the proposed legislative district, Norton said, “This cuts it and guts it. I don’t have trouble with a minority district being created, but I don’t want you to cut me and gut me to get it.”

Really? If you don’t have a problem WITH IT, then why did you side with Republicans in lobbying AGAINST it?

Basically, Norton made her position quite clear: If creating a new minority district could possibly end her tenure of public DIS-service, she’d rather the PEOPLE lost, than risk the possibility of HER losing in a new district that would have STILL remained almost 70 percent African American–even with the proposed changed.

That’s right, folks. Barbara Norton, who has ran NUMEROUS times for every public office imaginable throughout the years, who produces the African American History Parade every year, and who holds an annual shoe drive for underprivileged youth, DOESN’T WANT the people she claims to represent to be able to chose for themselves who their representative should be.

It would be one thing if Ms. Norton’s political record was beyond impeccable, or even consistently on the side of righteousness, but it’s far from that. This is the person, who, not long after being elected, was caught voting on behalf of absent colleagues to help secure herself a pay raise, had the audacity to invite Hurricane Chris (who, incidentally, happens to be her godson) to the floor of the State Legislature to perform (on taxpayer dollars, no less) a song that would be considered degrading and disrespectful to any woman with a working brain, AND–wait for it–when confronted with the damage that publicity stunt did to the state, basically stated that since “Louisiana has always been a joke” in the eyes of the nation, there really wasn’t anything that she could have done that would have made things worse.

I certainly beg to differ.

What Ms. Norton didn’t get was that the Republicans had way more at stake than she did, because they understood that a majority of Blacks vote for the Democratic ticket, and they were not likely to score victories in any district with a largely Democratic voting bloc. While I don’t agree with their tactics, I do understand their motives. This redistricting issue is a turf war of the highest order, and the Republicans have no desire to lose what they’ve fought so hard to maintain.

By siding with the Republicans, however, Norton has effectively weakened the position of Blacks statewide.

She either doesn’t understand that, or she just doesn’t care that she’s done thesis a result of her “tireless” efforts, the House voted to maintain the current two north Louisiana-based districts, one anchored in Shreveport, and the other one containing Monroe and Alexandria. Had the Senate’s plan been approved, Shreveport, Monroe, and Alexandria would have been reconfigured into a north Louisiana district stretching along Interstate 20.

While I’m not saying I’m surprised by her actions and I’m not even saying that I’m disappointed because somehow I expected this, I can’t help wondering if Barbara Norton’s vehement opposition to the never-will-be 30th district gave the powers-that-be the cover they needed to hide behind so that they could vote against it without seeming like a bunch of WASP-Y projectionists.

I guess we’ll never know.

Now that you know the gory details, let me ask you this: Is this the act of a woman of the people? Or is this the act of a female who is only looking out for her own self-interests?

You decide.

Kameko Thomas is a Shreveport-based freelance writer who covers education, politics, business, economic development, arts, culture, as well as travel and tourism. Thomas is a contributing writer and columnist for Jozef Syndicate. She can be reached at kamekothomas@yahoo.com

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