Opponents and a supporter of restrictions on library content talk before a St. Tammany Parish Council meeting Aug. 30, 2023. (Piper Hutchinson/Louisiana Illuminator)
As results rolled in Saturday evening, Louisiana elected a slate of new Republicans to statewide offices. Hidden among local election results were outcomes that could offer insight into the future of library battles around the state.
For several years, conservative activists have protested against certain library materials — primarily those with LGBTQ+ themes. But over the past year, their fights expanded to more locales and caught the eye of powerful officials.
Three local elections in south Louisiana offer a glimpse into the future of what some officials nebulously refer to as the “library issue.”
A renewal of the tax that pays for 95% of the Livingston Parish Library system’s operations barely gained approval Saturday — 50.5% to 49.5%.
While the renewal passed — by a margin of less than 200 votes out of more than 18,000 cast — the results could serve as a warning sign for St. Tammany Parish’s upcoming library tax renewal, political analyst John Couvillon said.
Couvillon was engaged by the Livingston Parish library system to conduct a poll on the renewal.
Fights over library content have been even more contentious in St. Tammany. Conservative activists with the St. Tammany Library Accountability Project have filed challenges to around 150 book titles and have been openly campaigning against the millage renewal for over a year.
“If you have emotions that high over a library, it’s going to bleed into all aspects whether it be a renewal or a new tax,” Couvillon said. “The fact that (Livingston) was a harmless renewal that historically had been renewed by overwhelming margins, and they could barely eke out a majority.”
St. Tammany’s library system may find itself in further trouble if the renewal is placed on the spring ballot rather than the fall, Couvillon said. The coinciding presidential preference primary might lead to a motivated Republican electorate defeating the tax, while Democrats, comfortable with their incumbent, stay home, he said
“If you are a library system trying to get a tax renewal, I would not make the assumption that it’s going to be an automatic renewal,” Couvillon said.
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St. Tammany council changes
One activist with the St. Tammany Accountability Project won election to the parish council, beating out an incumbent who the group has turned on for being insufficiently conservative.
David Cougle, a vocal member of the group, trounced Councilmember Mike Smith in a 67%-33% vote.
Cougle has pushed for the council to get more involved in the library system. In 2022, he advocated for the council to create a citizens’ group with the power to decide what events, books and displays were in the library.
Earlier this year, Cougle worked with state Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington, to draft a bill that would give parish council and police jury members the ability to fire members of library boards before their terms end. The bill was killed in committee.
The daughter of the late Gov. Kathleen Blanco ousted the sitting Lafayette mayor-president and plans to govern in a less politically partisan way.
Monique Blanco Boulet said there is a need to calm the political environment surrounding the library system.
For years, Lafayette has been a venue for high-profile fights over library content, displays and events that show no sign of slowing down.
“The library… it’s always been a safe space in Lafayette,” Boulet said.
While the mayor-president in Lafayette Parish no longer has a direct appointment to its Library Board of Control, Boulet said she wants to set a different tone for parish governance.
“We’ve had a lot of a lot of partisan politics dictate administrative decisions in the past and I’m looking for a government that is not dictated by either party,” Boulet, a Republican, said. “I’m looking for one that really wants to solve the problems that we have at hand, and, you know, with various voices at the table.”
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