Lafayette Republicans and Democrats Joined Forces for Fiber

Earlier this year, we published a case study that examined the LUS Fiber network and its origins. In it, we noted that both Republicans and Democrats backed the plan but here we focus on their resolutions in support.

Back in early 2005, Lafayette was preparing for a referendum on whether the city owned utility should issue bonds to build a FTTH network. Though Cox cable and BellSouth (now AT&T) were running a fierce campaign to scare voters, both Republican and Democrat parties in the community came together to support the community owned network -- both found ways of incorporating this important investment into their political philosophies.

In February, the Democrats were the first to pass a resolution supporting the city's fiber optic plan [pdf]. Recall that Joey Durel (the mayor then and now) is an ardent Republican.

We, the members of the Lafayette Democratic Parish Executive Committee, believe the project will enhance businesses, enrich our lives, and prepare our children for the future. With proper planning, future generations will see profits generated by this project stay in this community and improve businesses and lives for generations to come.

Improving local communities has been the traditional purpose of the Democratic Party. With that in mind, we commend City-Parish President Joey Durel for his bold initiative to make this plan a success.

A few weeks later, the Lafayette Republican Party endorsed the network [pdf] as well:

Lafayette Republican Party seal

... Whereas, the “Fibre Optic to the Home” service would create the potential for new economic opportunity for Lafayette, and in our opinion far exceeding the financial risk,

Whereas, we believe the LUS Plan represents an investment in infrastructure as opposed to direct competition between government and private business, which would violate a basic principle of Republican Philosophy,

Be it Resolved this 10th day of March, 2005, the Lafayette Parish Republican Executive Committee (RPEC), endorses and supports the effort by the Lafayette Utility System to make “Fibre Optic to the Home” services a reality for the citizens, institutions of learning and business’ of the City of Lafayette and beyond as time and resources allow.

With those resolutions, the parties released a joint letter of support and "Request for City Residents to Vote YES" on July just before the referendum.

Dear Lafayette Residents,

We all have a unique opportunity together, to make a decision for our city and ultimately our region by voting in favor on the LUS Fiber To The Home & Business Initiative in the upcoming Bond Election.

While our committees came to our conclusions differently - BOTH parties agree that this opportunity is good for Lafayette. This decision is landmark and we have the ability to set our community apart and distinguish ourselves for many years to come as a leader in technology innovation and implementation.

Because Fiber To the Home & Business is truly a “tide that will lift all boats”, create competition, lower costs, and improve Lafayette’s technological infrastructure, we ask that you make a concerted effort to get out and vote “YES”, whether you are voting absentee, from Tuesday, July 5th – Saturday, July 9th, or at the polls on Saturday, July 16th.

The referendum passed by a 62% - 38% margin. The grassroots organizing in Lafayette was unlike anything we have seen anywhere else, which is why we so often return to stories about LUS Fiber (see related stories).


By Design

Nice story on that rare bipartisan creature showing up in Lafayette. 

Frankly, that alignment was by design and tooks some hard work. The "working committee" that ran the campaign was deliberately designed to include activist members of both parties, members who were on their party's respective local central committee. The two of them engineered a sort of race to be the first out of the gate with a formal endorsement. The democrats won but my recollection is that the republicans made a supportive statement almost immediately thereafter and shared the moment of glory even if their formal resolution came a bit later. 

What's interesting is just how little agreement the two parties had to share. Nobody asked for (nor would they ever have gotten) a single statement. The joint statement simply recognizes that they've both made separate endorsements. :-) The symbolic role this played was huge, regardless of how little agreement with each other they actually exhibited. A mailer went out to the registered voters of the district bearing the logos of both parties and their mutual endorsement that was very influential—nobody had seen both logos on a single piece of political advertising!

A similar strategy worked to gain the chamber of commerce's endorsement: supporters within the organization worked hard to get something, anything, out in time for the election. The organization's finally unanimously approved (!) document included all sorts of recommendations for how the new utility would be built and run that were, well, dubious. But the compromises supporters accepted internal to the organization produced a unanimous endorsement of a pro-fiber vote. That added to sense of unanimity that let a lot of people who might have had knee-jerk doubts to vote for the project. 

Working to build unity is a big thing in such projects...and a pragmatic sense of asking for what is possible rather than what is ideal is crucial in building that unity.