Don Gagnard, meet Bobby Jindal, the Governor of the Gret Stet of Louisiana, and Bill Cassidy, Louisiana’s Republican nominee for United States Senate.
Bobby Jindal and Bill Cassidy, meet Don Gagnard, candidate for the Lafayette Parish School Board. You may learn something from him.
Two weeks ago, in response to a question about President Barack Obama’s unpopularity in Louisiana, Senator Mary Landrieu told NBC News’s Chuck Todd, “I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.” For those of us who live in the “reality-based community,” Landrieu’s comments were actually an understatement. The South hasn’t just been “unfriendly;” it has a long and well-documented history of being a hotbed of hatred, abuse, discrimination, and racism against African-Americans.
But almost immediately, Bobby Jindal took to Twitter, denouncing Landrieu’s answer as “remarkably divisive,” and within hours, he issued a press release titled, “Gov. Jindal Blasts Senator Landrieu For Calling Louisianians Racist.”
Since then, Republicans have attempted to convince voters that when Mary Landrieu said the South hasn’t “always been the friendliest place for African-Americans,” she really meant that everyone in Louisiana is a racist. It’s become a part of Bill Cassidy’s campaign. As I wrote last week, Republicans like Cassidy and Jindal aren’t just being cynical and dishonest; they’re being delusional.
Of course, it is impossible to know how much of a factor racism still is in Louisiana politics, because racists tend not to self-report to pollsters. But it’s absurd to believe that racism doesn’t loom large in a state in which only 15% of white voters approve of President Obama. Racism is not the only factor, and as Landrieu herself pointed out in the same interview, it’s not even the controlling factor.
Louisiana has become more reliably red and more conservative during the last decade. Because of the ascendancy of the religious right, groups like the Louisiana Family Forum have been effective at convincing both the public and the legislature to oppose marriage equality and anti-discrimination and anti-bullying legislation and to champion, instead, legislation aimed at banning access to abortion clinics, promoting creationism in the classroom, mandating the recitation of Lord’s Prayer in public schools, and enshrining the Bible as the official state book, among other things. Additionally, President Obama’s decision to impose a temporary moratorium on the issuance of new offshore drilling permits in the aftermath of the BP disaster- despite the fact that the moratorium didn’t actually affect Louisiana’s precious oil and gas industry at all- angered more Louisiana voters than it pleased.
It’d be a mistake to suggest that racism is the sole reason that 85% of white people in Louisiana disapprove of the first African-American president of the United States, and it’d be absolutely unfair to a great number of good and decent people to characterize them as nothing more than racists merely because they disagree with the President. But that is not what Senator Landrieu said; in fact, it’s not even close.
However, it is a matter of indisputable fact that racism is still a factor for many voters, and if we are ever going to truly and finally rid ourselves of this vile relic of our shameful history, we must honestly and openly confront it.
That may make some people uncomfortable and reflexively defensive. I’ve been trying my best to shine light on this issue for several years, and I’ve been lambasted publicly and repeatedly by fellow Louisianians as the “real racist;” I’ve been told by more than one person that, unless I denounce Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, then I’m nothing more than a hypocrite. I suppose I understand the impulse and the desire to demand that I issue a reassuring equivocation and buy into the idea that both white people and black people have been equally victimized by provocateurs, but it’s nonetheless specious and wrong and, in many ways, dangerously dumb. We should not be equivocating or deflecting. Again, if we are ever going to overcome racism, we must be fearlessly confrontational and relentlessly honest.
Statements like Bobby Jindal’s are designed to provide cover and a false reassurance for racists. He could have said, “Senator Landrieu misses the point. No doubt, the South still struggles with racism and sexism, and we must strive to be a more open, more equal, and more fair place for everyone, no matter their gender and no matter the color of their skin. But racism is not the reason President Obama is unpopular in Louisiana. He’s unpopular because of his policies.” And Jindal could have left it at that. He didn’t need to wholly discount the realities of racism, and he certainly didn’t need to suggest that Mary Landrieu, merely by mentioning those realities, was somehow accusing everyone in Louisiana of being a racist. Instead, by calling Landrieu’s statements “remarkably divisive,” Bobby Jindal perpetuated a pernicious and cynical lie and discounted the dignity and integrity of millions and millions of Southerners who know better.
That brings me to “Coach” Donald Gagnard, the District One candidate for Lafayette Parish School Board. After receiving more than 36.5% of the primary vote, Coach Gagnard, who just recently changed his party affiliation from Republican to Independent, sailed into a run-off against Mary Morrison, an African-American Democrat.
And thanks to the intrepid reporting of my colleague Patrick Flanagan at The Independent Monthly and Heather Miller of KATC, we now know who, exactly, those 36.5% of voters supported.
Gagnard, by his own admission, is a racist and a bigot.
“I am not only a racist,” he writes, “but I hate faggots, bums, illegal aliens, Veterans (sic) mistreatment and most of all: OUR HITLER PRESIDENT…. OBAMA, GO AWAY AND BRING YOUR URANGUTAN (sic) WITH YOU.” As Patrick uncovered, Gagnard has been publicly sharing similarly hateful and vile commentary on his Facebook for months, all while running a campaign for the Lafayette Parish School Board.
He’s repeatedly compared President Obama with Adolph Hitler.
And when Heather of KATC asked him to clarify his comments, he assured her that he was not a racist- despite the fact that he had already publicly declared himself to be one. However, he wanted to make sure that she knew he stood by his remarks about “faggots.” Quoting (bold mine):
When asked about his post in which he self-identifies as a racist, Gagnard says that “coaches are not racists.”
“I’ve bailed black people out of jail and bought them trucks,” he said. “If you call me a racist, that’s going to flip back on you. But the faggot thing, yea, you can stick with that.”
“As far as the racist thing, that was definitely a misunderstanding. I’ve lived with blacks all my life. That’s not saying it’s my preference, but I’ve always happened to be around the blacks,” he said. “So as far as the racist bit, that’s a misunderstanding,” said Don Gagnard.
It was all just one big misunderstanding, because even though “Coach Don” has spent the better part of the last year of his life railing against Barack Obama, our “Hitler President,” and his “urangutan” wife, he’s not a racist, he promises: After all, he’s bailed black people out of jail, and even though it’s not his preference, he’s been forced to live around black people all of his life.
Suffice it to say, this represents only a small fraction of the hatred that Gagnard has spewed online during the last several months, while campaigning for the Lafayette Parish School Board. If you are interested in reading more, I recommend Patrick’s original report.
And if Bobby Jindal or Bill Cassidy ever want to credibly speak about the realities of racism in Louisiana, they shouldn’t just consider the cautionary tale of Coach Don’s Facebook rants; they should read the comment sections of the local Lafayette news coverage.
Coach Don has more fans and defenders than you’d ever think possible, especially in a state that has apparently ridded itself of racism.