It hasn’t been a good past few weeks for state Rep. Jane Smith, and it may get worse as far as her political future for someone in politics for almost half her adult life.
Smith, who has spent the last 17 years first as superintendant of the Bossier Parish School District and then representing House District 8, wishes to extend her political career by running for the Senate District 37 being vacated by state Sen. Buddy Shaw. The Republican faces term limitation after her 12 years.
Since Smith’s first election in 1999, when she was the only state representative candidate not running for reelection to win without opposition, among conservatives then enthusiastic for her slowly some disenchantment grew.
Although holding herself out as a conservative Republican, from time to time she would cast votes that brought that into question, perhaps the first significant one of these being for the so-called “Stelly” tax increase in 2002. (She later voted for its repeal offered by Shaw in 2008.)
As a result of these lingering suspicions Smith never had another free ride as in her initial foray. In both 2003 and 2007, she defeated conservative challengers handily but, considering the almost nonexistent funding they received, not impressively. Her scores on my Louisiana Legislature Log’s index of conservative/reform voting (where a score of 100 denotes both maximized) from 2004 to 2011 are 40, 66, 64, 65, 70, 85, 80, and 70 for an average of 67.5. However, the House GOP average for this period is about 69 and it could be argued that her district is one of the most amenable to conservative and reform agendas in the state.
If not her current district, perhaps the one she wishes to represent is the most sympathetic of all districts to conservatism and reformism. The district spanning the Red River as a result of redistricting changes the past dynamic, from having a slight Caddo population majority to Bossier having the most residents, although voter registration totals give (courtesy of the more rootless and younger population of the Bossier side) a small Caddo advantage. Its projected Republican plurality and large white majority creates plenty of opportunity for a conservative challenger to compete effectively against Smith.
And one has emerged for his fourth try at office and the second time for this one, businessman Barrow Peacock from Shreveport, bringing that which exacerbates two other weaknesses she has: he has the resources to outspend her, and, because of his past efforts, he may be as well known in the district as she who never had run there or, perhaps even worse, never has had opposition as serious as Peacock. His past effort ended up being a costly failure but in the intervening years Peacock has emphasizing making local party connections. Even as he lost his second try for the House District 6 seat in a special election in 2008, narrowly, he simultaneously handily defeated a long-time GOP activist for the district’s state central committee spot.
This will increase Smith’s difficulty in making inroads on the west side of the river, and recent events have made her seem less trustworthy to those already uneasy with her. Smith apparently intervened on behalf of one of her political allies, Bossier City Councilman Tim Larkin, to facilitate his attempt to get a favorable regulatory outcome relative to a housing development of his in Caddo – one that has created a lot of controversy by its placement which makes the extension of State Highway 3132 to create a limited-access corridor to the Port of Shreveport-Bossier much more difficult and has the conspiracy-minded wondering whether this is an effort by Bossier elites to create incentives to include Bossier territory in port operations by the loss of such a corridor on the Caddo side.
And while her voting record continues mainly in a conservative and reform direction, she keeps casting some votes from time to time that provide fodder for the critics that say she is insufficiently committed to both of these. The latest example from this session was HB 204 by state Rep. Tony Ligi which would make public negotiations between unions and local government bodies, filed in the aftermath of a failed attempt by Jefferson Parish schools to rush through a favorable contract for unions before board members’ terms ended. Despite the minor inconvenience to moving the process along that it would produce, in committee Smith levied the decisive vote against this common sense transparency measure, something that will not go down well among the district’s denizens.
Peacock, with a blank slate for a record, has the wherewithal to poke holes in her voting history and to cast him credibly as the more conservative and reform alternative. If that’s not bad enough for Smith, if she were to draw a challenger from the left such as former Shreveport City Councilman Monty Walford, she would be in jeopardy of failing to make a runoff. Even any Democrat unknown, where anybody putting a “D” next to their name can be expected to take more votes from Smith than Peacock, might force this outcome.
With Smith’s secure placement in the clubby Bossier Parish inner power circle, her position of influence in the Legislature, and with the backing of state Republican allies such as Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle, she’s a quality candidate. But a genuine challenge from the right in unfamiliar territory for her during times where long-time politicians aren’t that popular will make her vulnerable.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:00