Wednesday, August 4, 2010 Written by Walter Pierce
elected official is earning a hardy pat on the back.
politicians generally causes me to twitch. Praising Republicans — think Lee
Atwater, Karl Rove and the Southern Strategy — gives me a more pronounced palsy.
But Joey Durel, our two-term Republican city-parish president, deserves praise.
His proposal that Lafayette Consolidated Government budget $5
million to purchase the horse farm from UL and turn it into a public park threw
many in the community into a state of pleasant surprise. Sales tax revenue is
down, the drilling moratorium may well sink its teeth into our hide, and the
nationwide economy looks like it’s slowing down to parallel park. These are
typically not the tea leaves that portend government investment in anything
other than critical infrastructure.
Durel’s call to acquire the horse
farm, turn it over to the non-profit Community Foundation of Acadiana through a
cooperative-endeavor agreement and get the park open within a few years came
within weeks of his administration announcing new funding models for
non-governmental social service agencies and arts/culture nonprofits, including
a separate line item for the Acadiana Center for the Arts — $285,000 annually to
cover operating expenses — that represents a nine-fold increase in city-parish
government’s funding of the taxpayer-owned and -operated facility.
proposals deserve our applause. These proposals at this particular time deserve
a prolonged ovation.
They must still clear a formidable hurdle — the
Lafayette City-Parish Council — and the administration will probably have a
particularly tough time selling it to members of Durel’s own party, a couple of
whom have proven to be adversarial toward such discretionary spending. And the
Democrats on the council could balk simply because these proposals are coming
from a Republican administration, but I’ve long been impressed by how little
day-to-day traction the national political dynamic — Republicans versus
Democrats, tearing at each others’ throats — has on local politics. Durel
needs five votes to pull this off. I think he’ll get them. Promising councilmen
that their names will be engraved on a bronze plaque at the entrance of a
beautiful central park for Lafayette, a perpetual attaboy for their
forward-thinking governance, would be the perfect sweetener.
It would be
a surprise if our city-parish president hasn’t yet been labeled a RINO —
Republican In Name Only — within the keening conservative circles of our red
little parish. If you ask me, he deserves it; this shine he’s taken to culture
and recreation seems un-Republican. I’m well aware, however, that no one asked
I joked with Durel some time ago that he should "pull a Bloomberg,”
as in New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and drop the R to became an
independent. He didn’t take the bait, but I’m hoping he’ll
According to Durel, this newfound embrace of such
extravagances as arts centers and public spaces comes from the acknowledgement
that museums and parks are more than quality of life contributors; they are
small-bore engines of economic development. They help draw in visitors from
neighboring towns as well as new businesses and residents. I know, I know, I’m
sounding like a scratched CD, but it bears repeating.
Yes, we need good
roads and public schools, too. But investing in our cultural and recreational
life, especially when clouds are darkening the horizon, transmits optimism. It
says to outsiders and reinforces among ourselves that Lafayette is hopeful about