According to Louisiana’s Forum for Equality, Louisiana is the only southern state to have zero anti-LGBT laws in consideration by a state legislature in 2017. As of last year, Louisiana is also the only southern state to grant LGBTQ state contractors employment protections, and it is one of a few southern states to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. This progress is because of Louisiana’s current Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards.
Edwards was elected in late 2015 after a cunning campaign, especially against former Republican senator, David Vitter, who was under great criticism for his past sexual relations with female escorts. After Edwards and Vitter gained the most votes in the jungle primary, Edwards defeated Vitter by a 15-point margin in the run-off a month later. Even Louisiana liberals agree that Edwards was in a lucky position considering Vitter’s scandal, but Edwards also did win because he was not a threat to the anti-choice majority of Louisianans. It is also helpful to point out that Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a 20-point margin a year later in the same state. Anyway, Edwards campaigned as an anti-choice politician with pro-LGBTQ and social welfare sensibilities. Every candidate in the gubernatorial election was anti-choice. What Edwards cleverly did was state that he would not defund Planned Parenthood if there was not something as accessible and affordable he could deliver as an alternative for the other reproductive healthcare needs Planned Parenthood addresses. In other words, it was cool to have Planned Parenthood health centers. Months after former Governor Jindal delayed a property license for Planned Parenthood to create a new and larger clinic in New Orleans, new Governor Edwards gave the organization the access to finish their intentions of the new clinic.
While Edwards has approved of anti-choice bills in the past year, outsiders must understand the state of Louisiana. For instance, the southern half of Louisiana is a Roman Catholic stronghold, which includes an archdiocese in the area of liberal New Orleans that issued a protest statement collaborating with local businesses to block the creation of the new Planned Parenthood clinic. The northern half of Louisiana is a deep part of the Bible Belt, loaded with Southern Baptists and Holiness Pentecostals. Deridder, Louisiana, which is in central Louisiana, if not is, was the municipality with the most churches per square mile in the U.S. Also, while Governor Edwards is a lot more to the left than Jindal, both are Roman Catholic and so was former Governor Blanco before them. Do not even get me started on the corrupt lobbying efforts and deep ties of the anti-choice, hate group, the American Family Association, with Jindal.
It’s this cultural understanding that is needed by coastal liberals to understand why Bernie Sanders is supporting Heath Mello for Omaha, Nebraska’s mayoral election. Both candidates in the mayoral election are anti-choice like in Louisiana’s 2015 gubernatorial election. Like Louisiana, Nebraska is categorized as having heavy restrictions on abortion services. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, 92% of Louisiana’s parishes have no abortion clinic, and 97% of Nebraska’s counties have no abortion clinic. Though Louisiana has a population of 4.7 million and Nebraska has 1.9 million, they both only have two Planned Parenthood health centers in each state. Yet in a low populated, liberal state like Vermont (on the east coast) with less than 700,000 people, there are 12 Planned Parenthood health centers. Nebraska favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton with a 25-percent margin in last year’s election. Hillary was only favored in two Nebraska counties but only by small margins. Douglas County, where Omaha is located, was one of those counties. The county had a 2 to 3-percent margin favoring Clinton. Louisiana did fairly better in comparison with 10 parishes favoring Clinton over Trump, especially in Orleans Parish where Clinton obtained 81% of the vote.
Pro-Choice media, like NARAL Pro-Choice America’s website and Jezebel, is failing to understand the cultural contexts of social politics in deeply red states because of their privilege of leading these feminist conversations from coastal, liberal areas, where there is always a pro-choice candidate on an election ticket. The northeastern states and the west coast do not nearly find abortion as controversial as most states in the South and the Midwest. NARAL is based in Washington, D.C., which is the most loyal U.S. territory to vote Democrat in presidential elections. Jezebel’s owner, Univision Communications, is based in New York, New York. Understanding this political geography, gives understanding to such criticism from the media, especially since residents of these areas of the country are known to disparage such red states like Nebraska and Louisiana.
Being from Louisiana, my origin came up in conversation when I lived in Philadelphia, which people negatively responded to often with “Oh God, Louisiana.” Some went on to describe Louisiana as a hopeless wasteland of conservativism. Yes, Louisiana is conservative. Yes, we have some of the worst education in the nation. Yes, we have crazy ass bills that come through the state legislature that make me want to fly to the liberal heaven of Portland, Oregon. But we also have stigma, and coastal liberals are a large contribution to this issue. While conservative commentators like Tomi Lahren sweet talk to residents of states like Louisiana and Nebraska and go on to deceive their viewers as vocal proponents for their healthcare, education, and civil rights, they are at least acknowledging (on the surface) some of these red state residents as Americans. Tomi Lahren even said that she wanted to be a voice for “fly-over states” like her home state of North Dakota.
The problem with most of pro-choice media smearing Bernie for his support of Heath Mello must do with this cultural absolutism held by coastal liberals. There is a lack of cultural relativism in understanding that for any kind of progress to happen democratically it must be pushed wherever possible. This includes endorsing very imperfect candidates. This does not necessarily mean taking whatever you are given like endorsing just any Democrat, but it means seeing the need of a community or state (especially when all candidates in the election are anti-choice) and advocating however possible. Heath Mello may not be advocating for abolishing the system of the police, but he is advocating for body cameras for Omaha’s police and creating an “independent, third party” staffing analysis. He also wants to create an “Infrastructure Bank” that will be a public-private partnership developing modernized infrastructure for Omaha using local, state, and federal funding. As for the environment, he advocates for more recycling, Omaha’s “first climate action plan,” and clean energy investment for city buildings. He also wants to deeply invest in the public funding of projects around underprivileged areas of northern Omaha. For instance, he has envisioned the “Omaha Intergenerational Poverty Commission,” which according to Mello’s campaign site would “pursue a ‘two-generation’ approach to help break the cycle of poverty in Omaha.” He also wants to create a bus transit line for the city. What I am describing is a campaign by a candidate willing to address a great bit of his community’s needs. Meanwhile, Mello’s opponent wants to lower taxes and emphasizes “tackling gang violence” and is a Republican.
Personally, I find Bernie’s support for Mello more progressive than totally disregarding the candidate at all. Bernie embraced cultural relativism to understand the political climate of Nebraska to help Omaha people meet some of their needs. Sanders himself is from Brooklyn and is a senator of Vermont, so he gets extra points. According to Daniel Marans of the Huffington Post, Sanders “argued that compromising on contentious social issues is the price of building political power outside the ‘liberal coasts.’” To expand on my point of cultural relativism, for the leftist movement against Trump to be efficient, we must embrace more cultural relativism from coast to coast and everywhere in between in order to be strong against this monster in office and his agenda.