The Death Spiral Of A Small Missouri Town
Politics Done Horribly Is Destroying A Town That Deserves Better
The late Charles Krauthammer always spoke about how politics impacts everything and that it was incumbent upon society to do politics well. Krauthammer argued that doing politics well keeps the barbarians, whatever or whoever they may be, outside of the gates and that a failure to do politics well only leads to the entire thing burning down and falling in on itself.
Louisiana, Missouri(pop. 3,200) is typical of many small rural towns throughout the heartland of America.
The local economy and business community is a shell of what it used to be even 30 years ago. Many high paying, blue collar jobs left when the cement plant closed and relocated elsewhere (a medium sized chemical processing plant, and the jobs it provides, still remains). There are a few light manufacturing/industry firms and a call center that have stuck it out, but no new major players have chosen to locate in the city. The decades old large local nursery, while still operating, has reduced its physical footprint and shifted to an on-line business strategy.
A once vibrant local retail economy was decimated when the business climate shifted. In addition, Walmart located a store in Louisiana and then proceeded to undercut local retail businesses in a price war, driving many out of business. They then left town while the few local retailers who were still in business were left to try and pick up the pieces (with a few exceptions, they have not been successful). Today, there is one grocery store, a Dollar General store, a Dollar Tree/Family Dollar store that serves the community.
This decline has negatively impacted the demographic profile of the city. Out of a population of 3,200, 19% are over the age of 65. Of those who fall between the ages of 25 and 65, only 58.4% are employed. Almost 15% (14.6) live below the federal poverty level for a family of four. More than 10% have no health care coverage (an actual improvement over the 17.5% who had no health care coverage in 2014). In terms of family life, 52% of families are characterized as having only one head of household and no spouse present. Housing values have declined (67% of the housing stock is valued under $100,000). (Data Source: 2022 U.S. Census)
Long story short, the City of Louisiana is in serious decline and there are few signs that things will get better in the long term.
Politics not done well.
Louisiana recently made national headlines when the police chief was arrested and charged with three felony drug and tampering with evidence violations that were related to a drug overdose death at his residence.
Why is this important?
This event was really the culmination of years of city government fiddling while Rome burned, a political leadership so incompetent and a city government so dysfunctional, that it couldn’t see, or chose to ignore, the cancer that was killing the city.
This event is just the latest example of politics not being done well in Louisiana.
Here’s the thing. Citizens were repeatedly attending city council meetings and voicing complaints, some rather serious, about the chief himself and the lack of professionalism of the police department as a whole. Citizens were frustrated and wanted something done about the situation.
What did the city council do? Little or nothing. Whenever these complaints were bought before the council in public session, most council members responded by gazing down at their desk, looking at their phone, or lashing out in response to the comments. If that wasn’t enough, the council would go into “closed session” in order to discuss the situation. Many viewed these sessions as a cover up.
“The government and the political leaders of Louisiana have failed.”
Right now, because of the craziness, the city has been unable to hire a new police chief. The pay is low, the problems are many, and who, in their right mind, would step into the hornet’s nest that passes for Louisiana city politics and government, especially given the current chaos and uncertainty surrounding the “police force.”
This one example is illustrative of how government seems to work in Louisiana. Many of the council members have been there for a long time and are protecting their turf and personal political power (there have been two new temporary appointments as two members have recently resigned). The current mayor was elected almost a year ago, after an appointed mayor ran the city because of the resignation, for health reasons, of the mayor before her.
Three mayors in a little more than three years.
Since his election, a number of council members have been working overtime to impeach the mayor (three times, at last count). While Rome burns, the fighting, backstabbing, and power grapping continues. What could be called “Government by Facebook”, with the rumors, name calling, backstabbing, accusations, and disinformation, drives the narrative. The mayor, council members, and citizens groups of various size and influence all participate in the chaos and carnage.
Currently, an outside “special council” is investigating new accusations against the mayor as the council moves forward once again to either censure or impeach the mayor. This is costing the city thousands of dollars, potentially taking away funds that are better used toward providing basic city services. all in the name of owning the other side and protecting political turf and power.
While all of this is going on, the city continues its decline. While a couple of small businesses have started, there is no economic development strategy in place. For example, the current head of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, a current council member who is head of the council’s economic development committee, believes that the chamber isn’t responsible for economic development, just business development. To a reasonable person, it would seem that economic and business development are mutually inclusive.
“The citizens of Louisiana are “battling bastards” in their own right, trying to live a life of dignity and prosperity in a town that has seen better days.”
While there are many well intentioned private citizens and groups trying to facilitate a move forward for the city, the effort is piecemeal, unfocused, lacking coordination and central leadership (Louisiana has no salaried full or part time economic development director), and lacking a written plan that outlines specific economic development goals, strategies and timetables (the city wrote a comprehensive community plan in 2017, but it only devotes three quarters of a page to economic development as a stand section of the plan). The current strategy seems to be focusing on finding state and federal grants, then inventing projects to be funded by the grant rather that having an established set of projects and then using grants as a funding mechanism.
The government and the political leaders of Louisiana have failed. They have failed so miserably that the city is in a death spiral that my be unrecoverable. This city’s government and its political leadership is so dysfunctional, so set in its ways, so stuck in the past that they can’t see the forest for the trees. They can’t get out of their own way. They can’t be creative and think outside of the box in terms of moving forward. They see a new business starting, a restaurant opening, or a once off music festival on a Saturday, as vindication of their approach and justification for business as usual, a turning of the corner, so to speak, that justifies their myopia, dysfunction, and lack of vision or effort to make things better.
All the while, the tax base declines, property values drop, job creation continues to lag, the younger generation leaves for better opportunity, the population continues to age, the political dysfunction continues, an ethical and professional police chief doesn’t get hired, the city loses out on grant money, nostalgia for the past, for the Louisiana of years gone by, a past that will never return continues, the political chaos accelerates, and nothing changes. Government doesn’t do its job.
Those who were surrounded by the Japanese on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines during World War II called themselves the “Battling Bastards of Bataan” and sang a ditty that went like this:
"We’re the Battling Bastards of Bataan. No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam. No aunts, no uncles, no nephews, no nieces. No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces. And nobody gives a damn.”
The citizens of Louisiana are “battling bastards” in their own right, trying to live a life of dignity and prosperity in a town that has seen better days.
And nobody among the political leadership or in city government gives a damn.
The citizens of Louisiana don’t deserve the fate of the “Battling Bastards of Bataan” (Does the Bataan Death March ring a bell?). They deserve a government that does the people’s business, that looks out for their interests, that seeks to move Louisiana forward, building a better community for the present and the future.
They deserve politics that is done well so that the barbarians are kept at bay.
They don’t deserve what they have now.