Report from Louisiana: The 2019 Reading Challenge

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I caved to peer pressure in January and took the Goodreads Book Challenge; I vowed to read 100 books in 2019.

I have fallen short.

Right now I’m at 54 books.

I think Goodreads should amend this challenge from books to pages. A lot of the books I read were long books. Some of the people on my “friends” list at Goodreads vowed to read 100 books, but upon closer examination, many of those were children’s books.

I failed to think of that.

I could cheat, and go back, edit my stated goal. But, that hardly seems fair.  And 54 books isn’t a bad total, really.

After all, it’s not really about how much you read, is it? 

I’ve read some really thought provoking books this year, and I’ve read some fluff. I’ve almost read my way through the entire Tana French oeuvre, as well as a large body of non-fiction.  French’s The Witch Elm was excellent.

Right now I’m reading Stephen King’s The Institute, and it’s not exactly a small book. After reading Elevation, I swore I’d never read another book by Stephen King, but I changed my mind. The verdict is still out on The Institute, but so far I’m still with it.

I guess my favorite book that I read this year was The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros. It’s not for everyone, but I loved it. So unusual.

Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House was an excellent book.

Early in the year I read all of the books by Rebecca Wells, I had never read Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood before now. She was the featured author at the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival this year and I wanted to read her work before meeting her.  In 2020, the featured author at this festival will be Osha Gray Davidson who wrote The Best of Enemies about race and redemption in the South. That book is standing by in my “to be read” stack.

And while I have not resorted to picture books to meet my 100 book pledge, I did read a fair bit of YA books, but since I count that as research for my classroom library I figure that is ok. Some of them were pretty good and some not so much.

In the non-fiction realm, I read Ethan Brown’s Murder in the Bayou about the eight women in Jennings, Louisiana, who were murdered. The book offered a ton, literally a ton, of more information than the mini-series, and made things a lot more clear. It was a good read.

I also read that Marie Kondo book that advises you to throw all your stuff away and wish I hadn’t. I didn’t throw one single thing away, for the record, that I wouldn’t have whether I’d read her book or not.  Thankful for that.

Ernest Gaines died a couple of weeks ago and that broke my heart. He was such a great writer and a true gentleman. I’m reading his short stories in Bloodline now. (Yes, I’m reading more than one book at a time.)  His book, A Lesson Before Dying made me ugly cry when I read it last year – such a great book.

Like most readers, my stack of books “to be read” is staggering and I’m not sure I will live long enough to read all of them. I might have a book buying disorder.

As for the book challenge, I have no idea why I did such a thing. It’s not like me at all.  Peer pressure is a powerful thing and looking back at the books I’ve read this year is humbling. Did I measure up?  (To what?!)  I probably won’t do the challenge again next year. Why am I on Goodreads in the first place? Who is tracking what I read and why?

It can make you a little paranoid.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Four more years of decline

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I saw a meme on social media Sunday morning:  “Waiting for election results is like waiting for a grade on a group project. I know I did my part right but I’m scared the rest of you screwed it up.”

Well, they did.

We’ve got four more years of John Bel Edwards. Pete wrote about this yesterday.  It’s true, as he says, that Edwards is a pro-life Democrat and to a state that is heavily Catholic, especially in the southern regions, that matters.

However, I’d hardly say that his re-election is a mandate. The race was very close and for a lot of us who would like to see business returning to Louisiana, this is not really good news. It means:

Four more years of high taxes.

Four more years of trial lawyers running businesses out of the state.

Four more years of last-in-everything.

Four more years of shackles on the oil and gas industry.

Four more years of decline.

The race was close: Edwards received 774,469 votes and Rispone received 734,128, giving Edwards about 51% of the vote. Voter turnout was about 50% and it is worth noting that Orleans Parish went 90% for Edwards. 

The days leading up to the election were insane: Donald Trump lobbied throughout Louisiana for Eddie Rispone and his rallies drew literally thousands. In the Shreveport/Bossier City area here in northwest Louisiana, Trump visited on Thursday, before the Saturday election.

Interestingly, just days before Trump’s visit, the Shreveport mayor Adrian Perkins (D) issued a “stand-down” order, telling Shreveport police and fire responders to offer no assistance to the security of the President during his visit. Shreveport’s first responders had been in planning meetings and had assignments to assist Bossier City (we are divided only by a river). This stand-down order met with a backlash against Mayor Perkins that resulted in a local defeat of the Mayor’s bond election that was also on the ballot.

The only good news here is that this runoff election granted Louisiana Republicans a supermajority in both the House and Senate, and so Edwards will have a tougher time this term.

Looking at the numbers, it is interesting to consider for example that voters reinstated the Republican Secretary of State overwhelmingly over the Democrat candidate (59% to 40%), but only 51% of those same voters went for Edwards.

I think a lot of the problem for Republicans in this election can be placed on two things: a lot of people see Edwards as just moderate enough that they can take him. The second thing is that Republicans just did not offer up a top tier candidate. Rispone’s name recognition was zero coming into this election and he had no political experience. He’d just made lots of money in the private sector. He knows business and he touted himself as the Louisiana Donald Trump.

If Senator John Kennedy had run, we might be having a very different conversation right now.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Election Countdown

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Saturday was the last day to early vote in the gubernatorial election and the turnout across the state has been quite heavy. The scene was surreal in Shreveport as the line to vote snaked outside the Registrar of Voter’s office out on to the street, extending at least two blocks. The day was clear and crisp, vibrant blue skies and bright sunshine.

As we stood in line, across the street at the Caddo Parish Courthouse, two rallies were in competition with each other to have their voices heard. One group of about thirty-five were there in support of the Confederate monument that stands in front of the courthouse. (Its fate is still in litigation). They waved various Confederate state and battle flags and marched around the courthouse square chanting about preserving history. A second group, a climate change activist group, held posters and signs denouncing drilling, global warming, and burning coal while marching the opposite direction around the square. At one point the climate change group stopped and faced those of us in the voting line and shrieked “ROCK THE VOTE, Y’ALL!”

It was a bizarre sight. People in the line around us snickered and wondered how many of those climate change folks rode their bicycles or their cars downtown. They were all wearing sneakers and plastic sunglasses…the hypocrisy was curious. On the other hand, the monument supporters were interesting too. All in all, it made the wait in line fairly interesting. It’s probably the most people I’ve seen in downtown Shreveport on a Saturday in quite some time.

President Trump has been spending some time in Louisiana these past few weeks as the election nears. Before the primary last month he spoke to a capacity crowd in Lake Charles in support of Republican candidate Eddie Rispone. Last week he spoke in Monroe, Louisiana and the local news there reported over 40,000 people requested tickets to that event. The overflow crowd was served by large screens outside the arena; and President Trump will be in Bossier City on November 14 to lobby for Eddie Rispone.

Election day is November 16 and currently the pollsters are reporting that the race is “too close to call.” It will come down to turnout. I’ll be honest – I’d be surprised if Gov. Edwards loses. Eddie Rispone doesn’t have any political experience which is not necessarily a bad thing; a lot of people see Edwards as just conservative enough on some hot-button issues that they can stomach him. Plus, Edwards is using fear, now telling voters that Eddie Rispone will “rip away their health care” and freeze Medicaid.

Fear is a powerful tool.

Thankfully this will be over soon.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation (LSU Press). She blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Reading

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – The Louisiana Book Festival is coming up Saturday, November 2, and I’m kind of sad not to be going this year. Last year, my book had just come out and I was one of the invited speakers. It was a great experience!  This year, I’ll once again be speaking about Cammie Henry on that date, but this time in Natchitoches at an event on Creole Architecture at various locations in Natchitoches parish.

This year there are at least two Louisiana authors on the list of finalists for the National Book Award, Sarah M. Broom and Albert Woodfox, and actually both sound like books I would like to read:

Broom’s The Yellow House is a memoir named for the New Orleans East house in which she grew up. The house was destroyed after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures, which is when Broom moved back to New Orleans. In the book, she discusses the impact Katrina had on her family….Woodfox’s book, Solitary, discusses his time in Angola Prison, where he joined the Black Panther Party. Woodfox and other members of the Panthers were accused of killing a white guard in 1972.

He would spend more than 40 years in solitary confinement before his eventual release in February 2016, and the book details the harrowing conditions he experienced.

Non-fiction is usually by go-to when I’m looking for something to read, but honestly, I go in spurts. I’m reading The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small Georgia Town, now, and I also have a fiction stack.  I’m reading my way through Tana French’s oeuvre; I read The Witch Elm earlier in the year, loved it, and have now backtracked to read everything else she’s done. I love a good mystery and she always keeps me guessing.

My stack of books to-be-read is ridiculous.  It reminds me of this article I read in The New Yorker this week about online shopping v. brick-and-mortar shopping; the author was debating the idea of bookstores charging an entrance fee (absurd!), but in discussing his own reading habits, he said,

When I’m out in the world, having a stroll in a city or town, it’s difficult for me to pass a bookstore without at least having a browse. Never mind that I probably own more unread books than I could ever possibly read in a lifetime. Somehow, deep down, I think I believe that I will live long enough to read them and everything else, eventually. Books make me feel immortal, and I want more of them, always.

I can totally relate to this sentiment.

I am nearing retirement in a couple of years and everyone says, “Oh, but what will you DO!?”

I will read, of course, and I will write more books.  What else?!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and Her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: What would it take to make you move?

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – What would it take for you to leave your community and relocate?

My family has lived in Shreveport for decades: my parents and my grandparents on both sides lived here. I’ve raised my own children here. My daughter never gave five minutes thought to staying here; she found a place to live in Texas and was gone before the ink on her diploma was dry. There are no jobs or opportunities for young people.

My husband is originally from the Midwest and while he loves visiting home, he doesn’t want to deal with the winters there, and I’m kind of thankful for that because I really do love living in Louisiana. Yes, it’s a politically screwed up state, but isn’t everywhere?

I love Louisiana: it’s never dull. I love the weather, I love the food, and I really do love the people. The scenery and diversity is perfection.

I am nearing retirement (another story in itself, thank you Common Core) and when I stop and think about it, there’s nothing much to hold me in Shreveport any longer. Crime is escalating, jobs are non-existent, poverty is high, and if the casinos ever pull out we will be in really bad trouble.

My neighborhood is one of the older, better ones in town, not high end, no HOA, strictly middle class. But it’s a pretty quiet neighborhood. Last night, someone came down our street and heavily vandalized folks Halloween decorations. My neighbors woke up to pumpkins smashed all over their vehicles, decorations pulled up, damaged, stolen.

Things like this have become the norm. Shootings are daily occurrences. Downtown is hollowed and filled with homeless people who aggressively panhandle anyone who walks the sidewalks. A day or two ago a young lady went to WalMart at 3:00 in the afternoon and was attacked in the parking lot.

Why do we stay here? Is it like this everywhere? I don’t think so.

Since my book came out last October we have spent the past year traveling all over the state for speaking engagements and I’ve fallen in love with a little town in south Louisiana. In fact, I’ve visited at least four times now and will be five before the end of the year. The people are nice, the culture is fabulous, the opportunities many. I think I need to move.

All of this is to say, what would it take for you to leave your community and relocate? What would be the deal breakers for you? The food? The local culture? Cost of living? Crime? Weather? Health care services?  There are a lot of things to think about.

But the older I get the more I realize our days are so damn limited and you never know how long you have. Why not live every single one of them to the best of your ability? 

Why settle?

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: An Edwards/Rispone Runoff

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It was a wild night in Louisiana Saturday night.  LSU defeated Florida in Death Valley and John Bel Edwards and Eddie Rispone will face off in five weeks for the runoff election for Louisiana governor.

Edwards finished the night with 46% of the vote while the Republican vote was split between Rispone and Ralph Abraham. Rispone captured 27% and Abraham 23%.  Other contenders in the gubernatorial race were mere blips.

Friday, President Trump visited Lake Charles, LA to lend support for the Republican candidates. He did not endorse either Rispone or Abraham until after the returns came in last night; now he has endorsed Rispone.   Trump, of course, takes credit for getting Rispone into the runoff, and he may well have contributed. Lines to get inside to see Trump in Lake Charles were staggeringly long and people began camping out far in advance of the event.

Most pundits across the state do not see an Edwards re-election as a done deal:

In either scenario, Edwards will have a much tougher time scooping up support from Republican voters than he did in his first election. Edwards’ Conservative-leaning stances that attracted Republicans during his first election could seem more moderate when compared to Rispone’s. Edwards also can’t count on the same wave of support from Republican voters who had become fatigued with their party as they had with Edwards’ predecessor, former Governor Bobby Jindal.

He’s also almost certain to face critiques from Republican officials who held onto seats in Statewide offices after the primary, including one of his harshest critics Jeff Landry. And, he can expect to fight off attacks from the major Republican competitor who failed to beat Rispone to secure the runoff, Ralph Abraham.

Rispone often compares himself to Trump as a self-made businessman:

The grandson of Sicilian immigrants, Rispone grew up with six people in a one-bathroom house near the plants in blue-collar north Baton Rouge. He and a brother, Jerry, built ISC Constructors to a firm with revenue of $364 million last year.

Though much more soft-spoken and polite than Trump, Rispone upended the Louisiana Republican establishment by running as an outsider willing to blow up the traditional politics and historical governing structure to get things done.

Late Saturday night, Ralph Abraham conceded and endorsed Rispone.

The run off election is November 16.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Planation (LSU Press). Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Does Edwards lose based on early voting?

By:  Pat Austin

ARNAUDVILLE LA – We are traveling this week and find ourselves in Arnaudville, LA, once again; we are about an hour to the west of Baton Rouge and twenty minutes or so north of Lafayette, in Cajun country.

Early voting has ended across the state for the gubernatorial election, as well as other local races, and The Hayride blog has some interesting predictions about John Bel Edwards: he loses.  Really, it’s a very dramatic headline: The Early Voting Numbers Signal John Bel Edwards’ Defeat.  Really?!  Is that premature?

Pundit Jeff Sadow believes Edwards may be in trouble:

Democrats have averaged 39.26 percent total turnout while Republicans have averaged 43.59 percent. In terms of early voting over this span, those means respectively are 8.47 and 10.14. Thus, the ratio for Democrats, is 4.65; for Republicans, it’s 4.35. This shows in recent history that of those who vote Democrats in comparison to Republicans disproportionately don’t vote early, with early votes making up 21.5 percent of their total while for the GOP its early voters comprise 23 percent of that total.

At the same time, the early voting average higher Republican turnout of 1.67 percent is 2.6 times smaller than the average gap in total turnout that favors Republicans by 4.33 percent. With early 10/12/19 voting encompassing 13.16 percent of Democrats and 16.91 percent of Republicans, the gap more than doubled to 3.75.

Using the historical ratios, this means trouble for Democrats. That would imply a 64.68 percent turnout for Democrats and 73.56 for Republicans. Such lofty numbers won’t happen because of the trend to substitute early for election day voting, for which these ratios don’t compensate. However, comparatively these do point to a significant GOP advantage.

I’ve been most worried that a Republican split between Ralph Abraham and Eddie Rispone would give Edwards an outright win but Sadow (who is smarter than me) does not appear concerned.

And for whatever it’s worth, early voting numbers have been record-breaking across the state, which seems to indicate that it is not just local races pulling people to the polls.

The primary is next weekend, October 12, which is also LSU-Florida game day which could contribute to some of the early voting numbers, but certainly not all. 

As I’ve said often, John Bel Edwards has killed economic growth in this state, and his pathetic attempt to buy teacher votes with a $1,000 annual pay raise is a joke. By the time taxes and insurance come out each month my raise might buy lunch one day at Chick-Fil-A.

At this point, I don’t care who defeats Edwards, just as long as somebody does.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and Her Circle at Melrose Plantation (LSU Press). Follow her on Instagram @patbecker 25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Early Voting

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Saturday, my husband and I went downtown for early voting. The line snaked out the door and down the sidewalk and it stayed steady the entire day.  Saturday was the first day of early voting and apparently a lot of people wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. Of course, the LSU-Florida game is on October 12, the day of the primary, and maybe people are going to be out of town or otherwise occupied. 

Reports from across the state are consistent with what we saw in Shreveport. In New Iberia over 700 people turned out for early voting.

The gubernatorial race is what everyone is interested in. Current Governor John Bel Edwards (D) has two Republican challengers and both of those are too close in the polls to say either one is really ahead of the other.

What I am worried about it that they’re going to split the vote and Edwards will win outright without having to go to a runoff.

Edwards is just shy of 50% in most polls while the Republicans are both just above 20%.

Edwards has not been the worst governor we’ve ever had and as Democrats go, he’s pretty conservative on a couple of issues like gun control and abortion, but economically he has done real damage to the state through his alliances with trial lawyers. Companies are fleeing the state to avoid excessive litigation. There are no jobs here, no real industry, few Fortune 500 companies, and out children are running for the Texas border as soon as they graduate from college.  The outlook is grim.

Based on what I was hearing in the early voting line yesterday, there were a lot of Democrat votes cast yesterday. I know that’s far from official evidence, but I think this just might be one of those elections where every single vote counts.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Back to School

Hold a kind thought for teachers in the next few weeks as we head back to school. In our district, we start tomorrow – two days of motivational and procedural in-service training (again) and then kids mid-week.

This will be year 24 for me and I’m pretty in-serviced out, if you know what I mean, and I’m still stinging from a really vicious and nasty election held in the spring in which a teacher pay raise was soundly defeated. Even though we are a top-performing district, we are still the lowest paid and that is clearly not likely to change. Nobody wants to raise any kind of taxes to support technology upgrades or pay teachers, and so our district is now hemorrhaging teachers to neighboring districts who pay 7k a year more.
At any rate, I’m still salty about it. It was pretty ugly and teachers were branded socialists and communists for wanting more money.

That being said, I’m still looking forward to the new school year and new students. It is hard to let go of my summer and those lazy mornings sleeping past 5:00 a.m., but the adjustment comes pretty quickly. In a week or two the routine will be established. Before you know it fall football is on the schedule and then the evenings start cooling off. Walmart is already making room for Christmas trees.

If you have school age kids, or even if you don’t, check to see if your local teachers need anything; lots of us have Classroom Wish Lists on Amazon because in most districts teachers purchase most of their own classroom supplies, especially in high poverty districts. I wish I had kept count of the boxes of tissue, the hoards of pens, pencils, and markers that I’ve bought, the dry erase markers and paper clips. When a new teacher walks into her classroom, more often than not, the only thing provided is furniture and students.

Most of us are pretty good people. Most of us are not acting inappropriately with the students and lots of us disagree with Common Core and scripted curriculum, but we do our dead level best to educate and care for your kids while they’re in our care in spite of government idiocracy.

Here’s to year twenty-four! Wish me luck.