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Senate contest still impacts NW LA political scene

Ripple effects from the state Senate District 37 contest in northwest Louisiana in the latter part of last year continue to impact the political environment.

A ghost of the region’s political past – a recent specter – arose a little too unexpectedly for some Bossier Parish Police Jury members when it was discovered that, very quietly, Parish Administrator and member Bill Altimus had hired former state Rep. Billy Montgomery to work on special projects for the parish.

This is perfectly within Altimus’ purview, even though the scope of Montgomery’s duties are unimpressive and altogether probably do not merit much of salary or even a full-time job. Even as juror Rick Avery argued it was a job that needed filling for two years, it begged the question – which got delivered by juror Brad Cummings – why suddenly the job got filled when Montgomery became available, or as Cummings astutely observed, “If Billy Wayne would have won the Senate race we would not be talking about this today.”

Maybe Montgomery would be an excellent front man to shake some hands at ceremonial occasions, to look at some financial statements once a year, to shuffle some paperwork on various parish initiatives, and to hang around a few meetings where seldom does anything happen where the parish needs quick notification if at all. But it’s unlikely whatever he’s getting paid is worth it to the parish taxpayer considering the alternative uses of those funds and who else in parish government or how else and at what cost it could perform those tasks. (Although not long after his hiring Montgomery suffered a health setback, so regardless of whether he is on the parish taxpayers' dime hopefully he'll soon recover.)

Regardless that the sheepish Jury mainly fell in line and agreed with Altimus’ decision, this make-work patronage payoff smacks more of politics than of good sense – something voters need to remember when the jury and especially if Altimus runs for reelection in 2011. Maybe Republicans already have made a statement; in the election last month, Altimus was the only candidate to the Republican Parish Executive Committee not to be elected, narrowly – one wonders whether enough GOP voters knew of this hire and decided to withhold their vote from him because of it.

That dynamic of knowing something disappointing about a candidate also may have been in play regarding another candidate from that Senate contest of last fall. Running for the third time in four years for a legislative office, Barrow Peacock came much closer this time but still missed out by almost 400 votes to former Shreveport City Councilman Thomas Carmody in the special election to fill the state House District 6 vacancy.

There wasn’t a whole lot of difference between the two Republicans in terms of issue preferences, although Carmody was the more experienced in office compared to the never-elected Peacock. This lack of ideological distinguishing may have made Peacock’s behavior during the general election runoff phase of his previous election a decisive factor.

Peacock’s hopes there died in the primary, leaving the longtime liberal Democrat but new Republican Montgomery up against now-state Sen. B.L. “Buddy” Shaw, a conservative Republican former member of the state House. As a response, another defeated conservative Republican candidate Jay Murrell not only immediately publicly endorsed Shaw, but also sent around a note to backers urging them to vote for Shaw in the runoff.

Murrell, returning to private life, had nothing to gain except seeing a man who paralleled his beliefs win. But Peacock curiously made no endorsement. Shaw clearly was the more conservative of the two candidates, and at age 74 he may well not return to the Senate after this term. A Peacock endorsement and work on Shaw’s behalf would have set up the man younger by half excellently to run in 2011 as the older’s heir apparent and he quite legitimately could have gained great credit for helping Shaw in his ultimate win.

Instead, the impression Peacock gave by his remaining mum was he was putting aside principle by angling for Montgomery’s support by not opposing him in the hopes of winning Montgomery’s support for a political bid some years later. If so, he made two costly errors in assumption – that Montgomery would win and that if he didn’t that the more informed voters who understood he hadn’t endorsed Shaw would be forgetful or forgiving by the time Peacock was to run again.

But Shaw won no thanks to Peacock and then he ran again just a couple of months later. This makes Peacock now a three-time loser after spending more personal funds than perhaps any candidate in state history who did not win a legislative seat. It really has taken a lot of luster off his electability to area conservatives and Republicans and threatens to turn him into a white, male, Republican, bigger-campaign-spending version of state Rep. Barbara Norton.

However, she did win an office on her seventh try. Peacock only can hope, if he tries yet again, that his luck is even as good.

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