Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Leadership lacking, power sharing rare, checks and balances non-existent in Shreveport-Bossier, says demographer Stonecipher

Shreveport-Bossier is America’s fastest shrinking metropolitan economy, according to data from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The most obvious question to ask, says, is how did this happen? Who is responsible and how does this get fixed?

Shreveport demographer Elliott Stonecipher says the problem comes down to no accountability.

“We have such a racially divided city and have, historically, when we elect people to public office here, what they know is that they can finesse the news media,” explained the Shreveport demographer. ”They can finesse the opinion leaders. They can accuse them of being racist one way or the other. The news media today in many places, Shreveport included, is a shadow of its former self.”

Stonecipher said that the local news outlets either don’t have the desire or push to seek out the truth and hold our leaders accountable or the content that they do pull out is critique, labeled and disregarded.

“What we have is no ‘sheriff’. There is no accountability,” continued Stonecipher. ”There is no newspaper front page to worry about, there is no group of ministers to worry about, there is nobody who is going to do anything about anything that happens.”

Think of news outlets in other metropolitan areas. The most obvious example of what Stonecipher is talking about are newspapers like the New York Times, New York Post and New York Daily News in New York City. Anytime there is a scandal, even just a hint of one, that front cover is the first thing that people see and think of when they go to the ballot box or are asked for their opinion about a particular subject.

“We depended on the media for that accountability,” Stonecipher noted. ”For decades, we had it here. We don’t now. It’s a big problem.”

And the Shreveport demographer added that this is a fairly unique problem.
“I do see that there are small markets, smaller than Shreveport-Bossier let’s say, that still have really daily newspapers, for example, because they are relatively mature markets,” Stonecipher stated. ”You have East Texas towns that still get daily news, their local TV and radio stations provide it. It’s very unique to have a place like Shreveport-Bossier for there not to be a front page for politicians to not worry about. It’s a pretty unique problem.”

However, it’s not so unique of a problem that other Louisiana communities don’t complain of it either.

“We hear the complaint more and more from other places in Louisiana, too,” Stonecipher explained. ”You don’t hear it from Baton Rouge. You don’t hear it from New Orleans. You increasingly don’t hear it from other places along I-10 and I-12 that are in fact being expanded into by the Baton Rouge Advocate.”

And Stonecipher noted that the issues with media also tell of a deeper problem Shreveport is facing.
“If people here who work hard, do their jobs, care about their city, pay their taxes, when they find out that things like corruption are just accepted now, that the absence of work ethic among public officials is just accepted now, that you can’t talk about those things because you get accused of racism, I think it all adds up to suppression of what we all had thought for decades was a common community interest and goal of good government and growth,” Stonecipher told 710 KEEL.

He continued that the way to solve these problems hasn’t be solving the problems.
“What would jump start that is where we are left. What in the world can step into that vacuum in Shreveport an kick things off again and the answer is it’s supposed to be elections and it’s supposed to be the media and neither of those is working.”

“Shreveport is racially divided to a degree that maybe it hasn’t been since the ’60s,” Stonecipher explained. ”Shreveport is now majority African-American. The African-American political leadership is not looking at that task as a community-wide task.”

What can be easily noted in Shreveport’s census bureau data maps is the stark differences between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in Shreveport and the different issues those residents face separately from each other.

“We are finding out that like the old ’30s, ’40s, ’50s white leaders who ignored the African-American community, African-American political leaders ignore the white community.” Stonecipher continued, “All we’ve done is switched the players from one side to the other and net-net you still don’t get the community-wide response to anything.”

“Another way of saying that is ‘no leadership,’” said Stonecipher. ”No leadership, almost no news media coverage of the truth of what is happening here and that is pretty remarkable in 2014 in America. Shreveport has been a very real two-race city for many, many decades.”
And despite having what can be described as an incredibly diverse city, the members of this diverse city are not working together to resolve the city’s problems.

“The black and white communities here do not share power,” explained Stonecipher. ”It is showing up in the fundamentals in the economy. It is expressing itself in the fundamentals of the stories we are talking about right here.”

What is even more concerning to the Shreveport demographer is the next election cycle.

“Shreveport mayor’s race is going to be the test for Shreveport as will the city council races be,” Stonecipher told 710 KEEL. ”The leadership in Shreveport, the ‘haves’ as you put it, they have not been interested in finding a candidate for mayor. I’ve been here my entire life… almost. That is just unheard of that the leadership, economically and financially, of this town doesn’t have enough interest to attract candidates of all races, both genders, to be a part of this city’s leadership. I think it’s a measure of how badly things are sliding away from us.”

Texas has become an economic powerhouse post-recession. However, despite the close proximity Shreveport has to Texas and the extensive history Shreveport has had tied to the Texas economy, Shreveport-Bossier is seeing little to no benefit from the increased activity to our west.

Stonecipher says it has something to do with the demographics.
“If we assume racial division, especially in the deep South, that means fed by such awful, awful history, if racial division is the issue, then let’s look at the demographics,” Stonecipher explained. ”Only three states in America have an African-American community which is two-and-a-half times the national incidence. Nationally, about 13% of the population is African-American.”

Stonecipher continued with his mathematical approach: “In Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, that number is two-and-a-half times that size. If we assume that racial division is an issue, and I believe it is the issue, then let’s decide what size that issue is. Well, if we’re two-and-a-half times the national incidence it’s much, much more of a problem. Therefore people from Texas, close by in vibrant communities, if they want to compete on this side of the Louisiana line they know they are going to run into things that mean that they will not get the return on their investment that they would get if they stay in Texas or Arkansas, so they don’t come.”

Stonecipher explained to 710 KEEL that it is not a matter of race on the surface that is the problem. The problem is trying to work with government’s like Shreveport where there isn’t one united force working together to improve a city or region’s economy.

“That’s why the energy complex has been so important to Louisiana and Haynesville Shale is so important to us here in Shreveport-Bossier,” said the Shreveport demographer. ”It was the rising tide to lift all boats, even Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama boats.”

Stonecipher then went on to look at the future goal of American energy independence by 2020.
“Louisiana is perfectly positioned, Shreveport-Bossier included, to be at the heart of what that means economically.” Stonecipher asked rhetorically, “Will we be? My answer is no. The I-10/I-12 corridor parishes, yes, they will be. Will anything north of I-10 participate in that? I don’t expect it to.”
The demographer explained his logic, “Our participation was the drilling of natural gas wells. That seems to have pretty much been finished. Unless that comes again to north and central Louisiana in the context of oil drilling where we go from the depletion of the shallow wells to these deeper wells, then I don’t see anything that holds the promise for Shreveport-Bossier that we had with Haynesville Shale.”

And all boats can’t be raised?
“Absent something that big, that much of a rising tide that lifts all boats, economic interests other than things like chain restaurants, stay out of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama,” Stonecipher stated. ”They understand the racial division is in the way of normal political action, it’s in the way of normal community activity, it’s in the way of just about everything we can discuss. We are, in the Deep South, another generation or two away from that problem literally dissipating. We are at the heart of it right now. What should make the difference is leadership. We don’t have it.”

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