John Chrastka's brigade of pissed-off librarians came into the game late in the Louisiana parish ballot referendum defunding libraries for jail money.
But the social media blitz appears to have paid dividends, both for library funding in Lafourche parish (Louisiana's term for a county) and for the profile of his political action committee, EveryLibrary. Voters on Saturday rejected by about a five to four margin a ballot initiative to cut library funding to finance the construction of a new jail, a move that would have quickly sent the libraries into deficit.
"It really woke us up when we realized that the library would be defunded to build a jail," Chrastka, the executive director of EveryLibrary, told Raw Story. The referendum came across their radar after news reports surfaced of inflammatory comments by Lafourche Parish council chairman Lindel Toups.
“They’re teaching Mexicans how to speak English,” Toups told the local Tri-Parish Times, referring to a Spanish-language segment of one library branch. "Let that son of a bitch go back to Mexico. There’s just so many things they’re doing that I don’t agree with. … Them junkies and hippies and food stamps (recipients) and all, they use the library to look at drugs and food stamps (on the Internet). I see them do it."
Toups told Raw Story that he doesn't remember making these comments, and "that little writer," Tri-Parish Times reporter Eric Besson, "just wanted to make a name for himself." Besson apparently picked up on informal comments made after a meeting without saying he was using the comments for a story, Toups said.
"I did say that Mexicans were good workers," Toups said. "I respect Mexicans and blacks. I work with them all the time."
About 43 percent of households in Lafourche Parish, which is west of New Orleans, lack Internet access at home, and more than half its residents hold library cards.
Trading library money for jail money would have been enough alone for his group to get involved, Chrastka said. But the over-the-top racial commentary struck a nerve with library supporters. "It made us suspect his motivations for going after the library funding." EveryLibrary began a last-minute social media push to reach the 55,000 people with Facebook accounts in the parish, spending about $5,000 on advertising online, he said. Since beginning the campaign push, EveryLibrary's donor base has expanded by about 15 percent, he said. "Dewey’s been dead for a long time, and it’s the first time this industry’s had a PAC."
The referendum would have moved about $800,000 of a $3.5 million special library tax approved in 2005 out of the library account and into the creation and upkeep of a new parish jail. Advocates of the tax rededication argued that the move would allow a $25 million jail to be built without raising taxes. Toups said that the parish is on the edge of being required to build a new jail by the courts, and that some crimes like DUIs are being treated like traffic infractions to manage overcrowding.
Toups, who heads the parish's new jail committee, has a history of peculiar legislation. Toups -- who's son and grandson were arrested on drug charges in 2009 -- pushed a failed law for the parish council to require drug tests for council members. (Toups noted that his son is jailed, but not in the parish.) He was also the chief proponent of an anti-sagging pants ordinance.
He said he doesn't believe his comments affected the outcome of the race. "It's back to the drawing board now," he said.