(Note: The Letter to the Editor referenced in this column can be found here.)
Of course, when you touch raw nerves, people tend to spasm.
St. Mary Parish Councilman Peter Soprano Ė who incidentally has been on what I consider the correct side of every parish council vote that I take issue with, and has been so credited Ė believes that I am bitter about the location of the casino boat in St. Mary.
Mr. Soprano is quite right.
I am bitter that as a "friend" to parish government for more than a decade, tribal government was blindsided. Peter and I disagree as to the legitimacy of that conviction, so we each have our versions of it. My stand remains firm. I believe key powers in eastern St. Mary orchestrated that circumstance, and though I cannot prove it, Iíve gathered enough evidence to satisfy my personal conviction.
What Peter calls my "piece of the pie" is in fact a proud trust relationship based on honor, community sharing, cooperation and, we thought, friendship. As a man who grew up in Charenton, Peter should know how much that kind of relationship meant to us.
Yes, I am also bitter that my peopleís representatives have been treated badly in public and in private by parish governmentís representatives. And yes, I am bitter that when I make my feelings known, I get threatened that "weíll just turn off the lights on Ralph Darden Memorial Parkway and let the tribe pick up the bill." Can we say endangering public safety?
Is this the way you expect your parish council representatives to behave, people of St. Mary Parish?
I even hear of east end councilmen threatening to do less for western St. Mary because of the heat theyíre getting from me. How do you like that, fellow westerners?
What Iím bitter about, most people understand, is that a coalition has formed and the betrayal of Chitimacha via the riverboat is merely the most prominent signpost of that condition. Weíre back to gentlemenís agreements and deal-making taking precedence over whatís best and right for St. Mary Parish.
Mr. Soprano has taken on the role of the pot in calling this kettle black when he speaks of fermentation, anger, discord and misinformation. I suggest he read his own letters to the editor, literal fountains of bitterness and venom.
Neglect of western St. Mary Parish isnít a conspiracy created by me, but I certainly am not the only west-end resident whoís noticed it. Peter can accuse me of splitting St. Mary Parish until heís blue in the face, but all I did was pull back the curtain so Dorothy could see the Wizard back there operating his levers.
I do have a personal vendetta. Oh, yes, indeed. I have a personal vendetta that in western St. Mary our parish roads suck. I have a vendetta thatís easy to see, and Peter can accuse me of "using" the park and golf course in my "pipe dream" but I defy him to point to anything of similar magnitude on this end of the parish. I have a vendetta against votes going down that were clearly detrimental to the best interests of residents of western St. Mary Ė again, which Mr. Soprano did the right thing on Ė on the strength of parish councilmen from the eastern end of the parish.
Whatís absurd, Peter should know, is that comments on Chitimacha elections donít only include verbal ones, but non-Indians and people who are not spouses of Indians out putting up signs for political tribal candidates. That wasnít this election, but then, maybe we just havenít given out enough comps lately to completely keep the grousers quiet? Weíve become a powerful enough entity in this parish that the miscreants are trying to gain control over us, and that, friends and neighbors, is indisputable.
Iím not swooned by Mr. Sopranoís investment of money in western St. Mary Parish, but I certainly applaud it. I do remain mystified by the fact that a parish councilman, who has much at stake in western St. Mary Parish, is so defensive of his east-end counterparts.
My investment is my family and a lifetime here. My investments are these very words because whether Peter or any other elected official likes it or not, thatís what we do. I donít have to justify the First Amendment to Peter Soprano any more than I take issue with his right to spew vitriol. My investment in this community is not brick and mortar, like Peterís. Mine is intangible, the writing of commentary, the chronicle of history, the history of my people, my family and my life, as much a part of St. Mary Parish as any other. I took the opportunity on national television to tout St. Mary Parish and coastal restoration in Louisiana. My investment is the love and commitment I have to this parish, and the courage to speak and act as is the responsibility of a newsman, and Iíve been doing it more than 25 years.
Mr. Soprano, attempting to belittle the popularity and reach of this column, seeks to mock myself and it by noting that only two of eleven council members read it (What, he took a poll???) and he isnít sure heíll continue to do so. I find that proposal doubtful, curious as Mr. Soprano is about whatís being said about him and the parish council, but hey, itís a free country. Ainít it, Peter?
Let this stand for the record: Mr. Soprano or anyone else out there can call it hate, street talk, misinformation, dreams, innuendoes and conspiracy theories, and use circular arguments about airing our dirty laundry in public, but the time to be silent has ended for me. Itís time for things to change in this parish, and Iím not nearly so arrogant as Mr. Soprano to believe Iím the sole man to change themÖbut I certainly wonít shrug it off any longer. It takes just one voice to start a chorus.
So my invitation from last week stands, Peter: Prove me wrong. Prove Iím full of baloney. Fund the Center Theater project. Build a massive recreation facility, campground, water sports-friendly facility on Bayou Teche in conjunction with the Bear Refuge. Do something, anything on the same scale here as whatís done to the east, and Iíll applaud you until my hands bleed.
Call it a rampage, dirty laundry, garbage, saint or sinner, Peterís right about one thing: We do buy our ink by the barrel. One thing inkís good for, you know, is drawing lines.
This one is drawn.