‘We’ve allowed the oil and gas industry to hijack our democracy’

This story is encouraging:a Baton Rough parish school board votes against a pro forma tax break for Exxon Mobil.

It has been a David vs. Goliath story in the Louisiana capital, where a grass-roots coalition of black and white churches, activists and ordinary citizens have successfully clamored to democratize a system that used to dole out billions in property-tax breaks without giving the local school boards, city councils and other government entities that depend on those taxes any say in the matter.

The vote has also revived a vexing, and defining, Louisiana question about the deference a perennially impoverished state must show to big business.

“We’ve allowed the oil and gas industry to hijack our democracy,” said Russel L. Honoré, a retired Army lieutenant general who earned acclaim for leading the military response to Hurricane Katrina, and who had urged the East Baton Rouge Parish school board to reject the exemptions. “The industry will brag about it all the time, how well we’re doing in terms of business development. Well, if we’re doing so well, why are we the second-poorest state?”

With some polls showing increased public support for taxing the rich, and with my former students wondering why the hell we need billionaires in the first place, we’re in the middle of a rare moment, a first in my life, when Reaganism, if not absorbed by fertile soil, has putrefied beyond recognition. In the late nineties, Bill Clinton could affirm during a State of the Union, “The era of big government is over” and for once not employ the strophe as a cynical gesture; he didn’t read public mood so much as finish the molding job by St. Ronnie.

And, to quote the Sage of Westchester Gloria Estefan, here we are.

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