Welcome to Louisiana Lefty, a podcast about politics and community in Louisiana where we make the case that the health of the state requires a strong progressive movement, fueled by the critical work of organizing on the ground. Our goal is to democratize information, demystify party politics, and empower you to join the mission because victory for Louisiana requires you.
On this week's episode, I speak with Robin Parrott, who is an elected member of Democratic leadership in Louisiana. She serves on Livingston Parish's Democratic Parish Executive Committee or DPEC for short, of which there's one for each of our 64 parishes. She was also elected to fill the woman seat in her district on the Democratic State Central Committee, which is the governing body of the Louisiana Democratic Party. The DSCC is comprised of a man and a woman from each state house district. We discuss her run for the Louisiana Legislature in very red District 95 and begin a conversation I hope to revisit in future episodes that will address the difficulties Democrats face in parts of the state that are not our stronghold and explore what can be done to assist their efforts.
Robin Parrott, thank you so much for joining me on Louisiana Lefty this week.
Thank you, Lynda, I appreciate you inviting me to come on.
Well, I asked you to come on because you ran as a Democrat for the Louisiana Legislature in the last cycle in an area that would be considered difficult for Democrats, I think.
Yes, for sure.
Before we talk about that, I do want to talk about how we met. We start the podcast with how we met. And when we were talking before the podcast, you mentioned that our first meeting was at the Emerge Louisiana boot camp in Baton Rouge.
Therefore, that answers one of my later questions. You are an Emerge alum then.
Yes. You were doing a training there, and I'd already heard of you actually before that. But yeah, that's how we met originally.
And I remember, I was there to do the field training for you women? How was Emerge for you? Did you think that was a valuable experience?
Yes, one of the most valuable experiences for running for office.
And then what got you originally interested in politics? Is this something you've been interested in for a long time? Or is this fairly recent?
This is fairly recent. I never expected that I would be involved in politics. I was actually a teacher before I became a stay-at-home mom, and I always cared about issues. We were foster parents, and we adopted from foster care, so social issues came up and we cared about that. But I was never really political, and I was actually more conservative. And then Trump got elected, and it made me pay more attention to things, and I got involved in an Indivisible group and then from there Emerge Louisiana. Then I found out about the DPEC and the DSCC. And now I'm currently the Secretary of our Livingston Parish DPEC, and I'm also District 95's DSCC representative.
So, you are in Livingston Parish and District 95. That's where you ran for state house.
You ran for state house in 2019 against Sherman Mack, who is your representative. Has he been your representative for a while now?
Yes. And that's one of the reasons that I ran. This is his last term because he'll be term-limited. This is his third one. And he was unopposed the second time he ran. So I was like, you know what, he needs a challenger. And we need to have a Democrat out here running, and so I figured, go for it.
So, for folks who aren't familiar with Livingston Parish or where you are, which is, you're close to Denham Springs, right?
Yes. Walker, which is right by Denham Springs.
Okay, so it's a little east of Baton Rouge?
Yes, and Hammond.
Okay, would you consider that a rural or suburban area where you live?
Denham Springs is probably more suburban. Walker, where my district, well I have part of Denham Springs. It's like a mix. So, when you get closer there, I don't know if you've heard of Albany, but that's closer to Hammond. There are little small towns: Springfield, Albany, Livingston, the town of Livingston. Those are more rural. And then Walker is more upcoming new families and a mix of old families that have been here for years. They have roads that are named after their family. And, yeah, the whole road is somebody that lives in that family. So, it just depends.
Okay, and so you said you originally would have considered yourself a conservative. What would you consider yourself now? You're a Democrat, but do you fall sort of more under the conservative or the moderate or the liberal heading?
I'm probably more liberal. But I would usually say, I don't like to have the labels. Yes, I would be considered liberal, especially out here.
Do you think that's a shift in how you view things? Or is that more of a shift in how America defines things?
It could be both, actually. I've changed stances on big issues that I probably wouldn't have before. And it's been a very gradual, slow change as I've paid more attention and talked to more people and heard both sides, which before, I didn't really hear both sides. Maybe living out here is part of it. Being in a conservative area, growing up in a conservative area, it just was not, you know, you didn't, everybody was Republican, and you didn't really hear from a Democrat.
Interesting. So, I want to talk to you more about your experience when you ran for office. Again, you ran for the state legislature in 2019. I want to talk a little bit. I told you, I'd mention some of the statistics. You got 22% of the vote in your district. And like I said earlier, that exists all within Livingston Parish. District 95 is all within Livingston Parish. You said it takes up half of Livingston Parish.
Yes. About half. Yeah.
As a comparison, John Bel Edwards...
The same election.
... the same year got 28% in the primary and 30% in the runoff. Calling that a difficult area for Democrats is not an overstatement.
So, I looked up some of the registration data in your area, in Livingston Parish. It's a 90% white electorate, 7%, Black, 3% other, 50% Republican, 20% Democrat, 30% other. And of the Democrats that live in Livingston Parish, over three-quarters of them are white and about one-quarter of them are Black or other race. So that, again, by definition, makes that a high hurdle for a Democratic candidate, I think. I've heard reports for years from folks across the state that they fear repercussions from identifying as a Democrat where they work or with businesses they own. They worry about harassment in public places if they're openly Democratic, vandalism to their homes, or even harm to themselves or their pets, I've heard. Have you ever had concerns like that in your area? Or did that cross your mind when you thought about running for office?
Every single one of those things. Yes. I have been more--once I decided to come out as a Democrat, I knew that I was risking any career out here, because I used to teach out here, and putting my family at risk. We've had that talk, but in the end, I decided it was more important for me to stand up for the right things, and I just said, let's go for it. And I guess I still have this feeling, this belief that people are good that inherently they are good, and that if we have the conversations, the tough conversations, then maybe they can see I'm not this evil person. So that was one of the things I wanted to change by running is to break that perception that these are evil people that don't exist, really. It was amazing even talking to some of the people. I actually had a man say, "Oh, well, you're not a typical Democrat." He's, you know, "You like to murder babies. You like to do this." And I'm like, "Okay, no." And so, you have to get rid of those misconceptions and let them see that we're people too.
Well, I think that's really important. It's one of the things I talk about all the time is re-humanizing Democrats for Republicans. We've so often, and this is nationwide, this isn't just unique to Louisiana, we've seeded a lot of the turf to Fox News and Republican talking points, Republican online or conservative I should say, online information. And I think that it's really easy for them to portray us--I've seen, even recently on some Facebook posts, I've seen people talking about, oh, I read Democratic as demonic. And yeah, that's about right. I think that was really the right way to be reading that. So it is, I think those personal interactions are the only way we counter some of that is for them to know that this is your neighbor. Your neighbor is a Democrat. Your neighbor is not a demon.
Right, it can be difficult. And we even, during the time that I was running, I wasn't there, but I had two other women that were also running at the same time as Democrats, and that actually helped because we had kind of a group that we could talk to each other, but we literally, at events and stuff, we were the only Democrats. And even like the churches in the area, they would preach against the Democrats. I mean, it's just something that's normal. And it's just the conception that they have, a misconception that they have that Democrats are, they're focused on the abortion issue. And I got also a lot of you're like AOC. You approve of the Green New Deal. You're gonna take away our jobs, you know, that sort of thing. But they wouldn't have even talked to me. It was just the label was all that they needed to hear. Democrat. So, I tried not to even bring that up and just talk about the issues.
Well, and part of the reason I wanted to have this conversation with you is the other side of that coin. I think there's a big disconnect from the urban and the exurban areas of our state where those democrats who tend to be more liberal, more progressive don't understand what it's like to be a Democrat where you are. And they don't understand the lay of the land there. Therefore, they really don't understand what kind of Democrats we need to run outside of these city areas, so they stand a chance of actually winning.
Yes, it's very difficult. As a candidate, I would often find people, liberals that I knew would be on my side and, if they knew me and talked to me, would vote for me. But they would get mad and huffy and puffy because I didn't come out automatically talking about abortion or whatever they wanted to hear. It wasn't exactly what they were wanting. And I keep telling people, we have to learn to communicate first of all and realize not every candidate is going to be perfect and exactly what you want. And in the end, progress is better than nothing. Like if you look at me versus the other candidate, you have to be willing to say, okay, how does this district, and I even personally, I knew highly likely I was more liberal than a lot of the people that live in my district. So, if I was elected, I would have to listen to them in some ways. I couldn't just go in there and do all these things that they would be totally against. Use my conscience, you know, like things that we care about that we know. In the end, we could find common ground. And that's what I was trying to do with my campaign is find common ground. What things do they care about that I also care about? And we can say, how can we get this done? How can we get things accomplished? And that's what they want to hear, actually. They want people to work together. They want the legislature to get the job done.
What were the kinds of issues you heard from people in your district that they were interested in?
It depended. A lot of times, I had to let them know what a state legislature does because they didn't even know what that was or who theirs was. So that was one thing because a lot of times they would come with parish council issues. Even the HOA? You know, my HOA person is not doing what they're supposed to. How can you help me? Well, that's different. That's in your neighborhood. But overall, if I brought up clean environment, yes. They care about that. We have a waste management in our community in Livingston. And so, they care about making sure that the air and the water is safe. They care about mental health and drug addiction. That's a big issue out here. And we also have a large number of children going into foster care because of that. Almost everybody that I talked to had somebody that they knew that was dealing with some kind of drug addiction. And so those things they care about. Yes, let's lower the number of foster care children coming into foster care as well as getting help because they felt like there was nowhere to go for addicts. Education, of course, they care. The schools out here are good. And they know that, but they hate Common Core. As a teacher, I was able to talk about education. I wanted smaller class sizes. They care about that. They care about the roads. Stuff like that. Infrastructure. Internet. Some places in the rural area, they did not have internet, which was shocking to me. And so, they would like to see that. That kind of stuff.
Did you find your thoughts on the issues changing at all after some of those conversations with people? Did they shape how you think about things or no?
No, I think I was pretty solidified in how I felt about it. And I had to be going in because a lot of them, it was emotionally exhausting for me after a lot of these conversations because it would often lead into questions about Trump or some federal thing and abortion. You know, eventually, we would get to those topics. So, I guess--
They'd bring up abortion? I mean, you've said that several times. So that's something that they really care about--
That's something that they care about and they would often bring up and say, well, how do you feel about that? I still hate the term pro-life pro-choice. I think that it's putting us in a box because obviously, I'm pro-life. And that's what I would tell them. I don't know of any Democrat that's not pro-life. I would say, in the end, what is it that you would like to have happen? What is it that you want from--if you're saying that you're pro-life, what is it that you want to see from that? And so, a lot of times we could find common ground there because I'd say, I don't want to criminalize women. And they'd say, yeah, me neither. And I'd say, let's find ways to help women so that if they want to have babies, they can. It's an interesting conversation. And a lot of times they would say, well, it doesn't matter how you feel. You're a Democrat, so I can't vote for you. And I'd say, just please think about it. Because in the end, it's not like I'm wanting to murder babies. That's not the goal at all. But we're for health and safety of women. And in the end, what can we do together because what has been done, what is it that we are doing now that's helping? Is criminalizing women going to help that? No, in the end, they're going to go get an abortion no matter what. They'll do it or harm themselves. So--
That's fascinating because I have heard John Bel Edwards tell similar stories to what you're telling where he specifically was talking about a fish fry near Monroe or in Monroe where it was a Friday night fish fry he hosted for the community, and he said, you know, Republicans and Democrats both came because it was a good meal. They knew they were going to get a good meal there. And a lot of them appreciated some of the things he had done. This was when he was running for reelection, and they'd want to get their picture made with him even but would tell him, you know, having a hard time coming around to voting for the Democrat.
Yes, it's very disappointing, especially looking in the eyes, and they say, I like everything that you're saying, and I like you better than the other candidate, but you're a Democrat, and I just can't feel good about that. I feel like, what if you do something evil or whatever? They couldn't trust it. So, a lot of times, I wouldn't even bring up party and maybe that was a fault like I probably should have because they could have gotten into that ballot box and saw the D and just didn't, you know--
Well, you got 22%, and there's only 20% Democrats in your district, so--
I had Republicans that did say they would change their mind like after having a conversation. I had one man and his wife, they liked me then he found out I was a Democrat. Then he was like uh uh, no. And then in the end, they prayed for me and were thankful for me and prayed for me to win. So, you just never know, but obviously, it didn't, in the ballot box, it didn't transfer. And it could be that my name is not as well known. I was running against an incumbent with power, even though everybody that I talked to if they knew him didn't like him. So, it was really shocking. I thought I'd get a little bit better. But I am a woman and a Democrat so that could also have been--
Did you face a lot of trouble raising money for your campaign?
Yes. yes. I think being a woman but also living in a red area, whenever I would talk to people, they'd say, well, what's your chances? Sometimes they wouldn't even ask, they'd say, I've given up on Louisiana, or I've given up on people running out there because nobody wins. So, sorry, can't donate. Yeah, I think that if I had not had the training from Emerge Louisiana, if I didn't have some of the support from other national groups, I can't even imagine what it would have been like. I don't know how people do it without that.
Well, you've talked a lot about talking to voters. So, I do want to shift to you ran a field operation for your campaign. And I do want to talk about that. What kind of direct voter contact did you do?
We did door-to-door, we did phone calls, and we did mail-outs like postcards. I felt like I did as much as I could with touching the voter. A big issue we had out here is that a Democrat had not used Votebuilder out here in a while. We did run into some that had campaigned for Governor Edwards. And so, I guess there was some on that. They had the big flood I think in 2016. And a lot of people had moved from that. So, the addresses, the phone numbers were not updated. People had either died. Young people, they're very hard to get in touch with out here like almost impossible at the door or on the phone. I would often try to find them, and then I'd run into their parents at the house. So, they are either off to college or whatever. Another thing that I noticed out here was that I would be looking for a woman, and she would answer the door, but then she'd go get her husband to talk to me, which was so frustrating because she'd say, "Oh, just a second. Let me get John." And however, John went, whatever John said, I'll vote that way. That happened a lot. And so, I'd try to keep them like, "Oh, no, but look, you matter too." I don't know if that's a state thing or just in this area.
And I do specifically remember you mentioning, because I did speak to you at some point during that time, that the floods that had happened in the Baton Rouge area a few years prior was still really impacting the area. And was that one of the issues that people wanted to talk about also?
They obviously are worried about flooding. Drainage is a big issue and a lot of that there goes with our Livingston Parish Council stuff. And so that's what I was saying earlier, I would hear a lot of issues about drainage at the door, which dealt with flooding. Everybody's worried about flooding and updating the roads.
Is there something those of us in more solidly blue parts of the state could do to help Democrats in redder parishes and conservative districts?
Well, I think one big thing is out here, it can feel very lonely as a Democrat, and I do believe, maybe it's the naive part of me, but I think that there's more of us than what we see. And I think we just have to do more work on that. And during my campaign, I had people from all over that came and helped me to knock doors, and I think it's important that people don't leave us out because we are, our Livingston DPEC, we're getting moving, and we're adding more people, and it's growing, but it takes time to build. And like I said earlier, I don't think I could have done it without those groups giving me the knowledge and then having volunteers come in to help me make phone calls or knock doors. One of the big things with it being rural, it was hard to knock doors because I would have to drive, and I would end up passing up a driveway, and when you get way out in the country, you're going down these long dirt roads, and the driveways are made of gravel, and you might get stuck in the mud. And it takes time. I actually had a volunteer come from New Orleans, and she would drive me to my places so that I could direct her with turn here. This is the mailbox or whatever. And it was a learning experience for sure with that because it did take extra time. But those people were the ones I really needed to be talking to because they were out in the areas that may not get internet and may not see an ad. And also, they would have more misconceptions possibly about Democrats. So, it's a time-consuming thing. So, I would like to see more people say, hey, we'll help that area. Even though you're not from there, even if it's one person that's willing to lead a Democratic Party group in that area, help them to grow it so that they're not so lonely. It helps to have other people and then once you find other people in the parish, then you can kind of grow and expand, but it takes time and knowledge. And if you don't have the knowledge of that, then you feel like you can't do it.
Well, and I love that example, by the way, because you're saying that someone not from there actually does have value because they could drive the car.
Give you the opportunity to cover a lot more ground.
Yes, because otherwise, I was trying to drive, and it was causing me to have to slow down on a busy road in a rural area and miss the address or whatever.
That's really good. There are some things that we could do and maybe part of what I'd like to see us do, and I hope to maybe continue to do with this podcast, is make sure we are getting some Democrats from parts of the state, like where you live, and parts of the state, like where I live, in rooms together, so they can actually speak and have a better understanding of each other's perspectives and the needs that Democrats in different parts of the state have.
Yeah, it's hard. And even on our DPEC, we have different leanings of Democrat on there. So, there's somebody that's way more conservative than what you would think, but that's just how it is out here. And so maybe once you talk and figure out ways to work together, that's how we try to do it. I would say too, and I would have to tell the donors this, look, even if I don't win, I'm still getting the Democratic message out. And I think it's very important that people are exposed to that. So, I was able to go and speak at a forum with all of the candidates there. And so, they heard from me. I had a public voice. I was in the newspaper. My views were in the newspaper about raising the minimum wage, about the environment. Those things were put out in the community where otherwise if I had not have run, they wouldn't have been exposed to it. And so, they were given a positive view, maybe not to them, because sometimes I'm surprised at how different we can be, but for those that were like me that I used to be more conservative and then I saw and spoke to other Democrats in the area. And I changed my perspective and gave me a new view. And so, if we expose people to those ideas, even if I don't win, it's still valuable. And if we don't run people in those areas, then we're never going to have a chance to win. And so, to me, it's very important. Right now, I feel like my goal out here is to just get more Democrats involved. And hopefully, that will impact the state. So, state races, if I'm talking to more voters, even if it's not going to impact local, it could add numbers to the state. And real quickly, one thing I noticed whenever I was talking to voters during this last campaign, the presidential campaign, Democrats were like, well, what's the difference in Trump and Biden? I'm not sure. Yes.
Listeners cannot see my face in this moment. But it's a look of shock.
Yes. It shocked me completely. And I was just making last-minute phone calls telling voters, "Hey, I just want to let you know that the election is going on. You can go early vote at these times. Do you know about that? And are you planning on voting for Democrats?" And it just shocked me. Same thing with our Republican senators and representatives. It was kind of just either they didn't know about it, you know, obviously presidential was more are important, but they really did not see a difference. And so that made me think, okay, we have work to do.
100%. And the case can be made that the fact that we did have Democrats running in those districts in your area helped John Bel win because you were knocking those doors and having those conversations, you were likely getting more votes for him. You're reaching out to Democrats in the area and making sure they're turning out to vote. And in a statewide election, a vote is a vote.
A vote anywhere in the state is still a vote for that candidate. So, they're all equally important, no matter where they come from. So that's really important for people to remember. Do you have work that you're doing now that you would like podcast listeners to plug into?
We're working on our Livingston Parish DPEC. So, if anybody happens to be from that area or have family or friends in that area, we are trying to grow our social media. LivingstonDemocrats is our Facebook and our Instagram. So, we'd love for people to get involved or even if you're outside of the parish and just want to help out, we'd love to have you.
Well, I will put links to all of your social media for your DPEC in the podcast notes, so people will have an easy way to connect with you. Robin, I always end the podcast by asking my guests some version of the same three questions. So first, in your opinion, what are the biggest obstacles for Democrats in Louisiana?
I think the misperception of who Democrats are and what their values are and being organized, getting people on the ground. I've been dying, since my campaign, to have conversations with voters again, and of course, the pandemic happened. But I said during the campaign, I'm going to continue this. This is what needs to happen. We have to talk about the issues. We have to get people engaged in that and to care about it. And I think having those conversations is like the top thing that we have to do. We have to train people to have those conversations because not everybody can do that effectively. I know I had volunteers that said, "Well, if they tell me that they're for Trump, I'm gonna tell them off." And I'm like, "You can't do that. You can't." So, it has to be something that they feel like they're listening--deep, deep canvassing, not, you know, 30 second conversations. This is something that we would have to focus on issues. And so, getting organized to do that and having enough people and having people that are motivated enough to care about that. I think that's a hurdle that we have to cross.
And side note, would you run for office again?
Yes, possibly. But it's a lot of work and a lot of emotional energy. Really, I want to help other people and find other people. I like talking to people. I like engaging in them. But I would rather do stuff just not for myself. Just like I said, canvassing and talking to people. I'm good with doing DPEC stuff and not running again ever. Just working for the party and then having other people that want to run, which is hard to find.
And I do want to, before I ask you these last two questions, because we've raised over DPEC a few times. And not everyone may know what DPEC is. Most people probably do, but it's a Democratic Parish Executive Committee. So, you are a locally elected Democratic Party official.
Yeah, I didn't even know what that was for a while. And I think that's another hurdle that we have is growing those and getting people involved in the Democratic Party and actively involved. We had a DPEC out here for years, but it was only like two people, and they weren't actively involved. And it's a lot of generations beforehand. So, bringing younger people into the party. I think that's important and something that needs to be done.
Maybe that leads into my follow-up question, what are the biggest opportunities for the Democratic Party in Louisiana?
Yeah, I think bringing younger people in would be, it's going to happen because obviously, generations are changing over. And so, we just have to make sure that we're reaching out to them, that they know about us, and that's one of the things that we're trying to do in Livingston Parish is just letting them know that we exist and that we're here. Did you know that there's a Democratic Party out here? Would you like to get involved? How would you like to do that? And trying to find engaging ways, which is hard, I would say in a rural area because young people are more in the city, and there's not places that you can just say, let's go find the young people, you know, like a college town. But I think in the whole of Louisiana, yeah, we should be targeting the colleges and the high schools. Stuff like that.
For sure, I agree 100%. Robin, who's your favorite superhero?
That one is a tricky one. I mean, if we're talking about comic superheroes, I like Hulk and Iron Man.
Those are good ones. I like the Marvel, the Marvel Universe. So, I approve. I approve both of those options. Well, thank you so much for speaking with me today. I appreciate you joining me on the podcast and for fighting the good fight in part of the state where we need to do a whole lot more work.
Thank you for having me. And thank you for all that you do. That's how I remembered you because I know you're great at that.
Well, I appreciate that, Robin. Thanks for saying it. And I look forward to continuing to work with you in your parish. I think it's really important, and I appreciate the work you do.
Thank you, Lynda.
Robin and I spoke off mic for another hour after this recording. We talked about the loneliness of being a Democrat in the wilderness, having to recruit volunteers from other parties when a candidate cannot pass left-wing litmus tests, how the brain drain of young people leaving for cities impacts party building and rural areas, and signs of hope like Black Lives Matter marches in unexpected places.
Thank you for listening to Louisiana Lefty. Please subscribe to our podcast and then follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thanks to Ben Collinsworth for producing Louisiana Lefty, Jennifer Pack of Black Cat Studios for our Super Lefty artwork, and Thousand Dollar Car for allowing us to use their Swamp Pop classic "Security Guard" as our Louisiana Lefty theme song.