Bossier City finds competitor to most apathetic electorate
As far as 2017 local elections go in Louisiana, it looks as if Bossier City may have to hand over its crown for king of apathy to a region just west of Lafayette.
The city that has grown up around Barksdale Air Force Base in the shadow of Shreveport, pockmarked with casinos, has become infamous over the decades for its sclerotic government. In the last four regular elections dating back to 2005, for a total of eight offices – seven on the city council and the mayoralty – these 32 positions have drawn precisely 42 candidates, an average of just over one contested election per cycle.
This year held to form. Republican Mayor Lo Walker, who will turn 84 this year, qualified unopposed for a fourth term, despite a flurry of indications he would not skate (with injudicious past behavior likely keeping out one potential contender). Six of the seven members of the City Council escaped challenge, with only one of its less useful members from a panel of mediocrities having to work for reelection, District 1’s Scott Irwin, who also faced a challenger in 2013.
Former Bossier Parish School Board member Lindell Webb will square off against him. Defeated after one term, Webb seems to have shopped around for another political posting for he put up to replace the late Wayne Hammack in Bossier Parish’s Police Jury District 11 just prior to qualification for city elections. He lost out to political rookie Tom Salzer for the interim appointment, for a reason perfectly indicative of the small-town, insider mentality infesting all Bossier politics: Salzer and his family were close personal friends of Hammack.
Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Webb sought Irwin’s seat, rather than run in the special election for police juror. That left Salzer unopposed, which has happened in every election for that district (which changed numbers at one point) since Hammack’s initial run in 1983.
Even as one of the faster growing areas in the state, Bossier always has had such a fly-in-amber political environment, for several reasons. The dominance of Barksdale brings in a proportionally high number of transient residents who pay little attention to local politics; many who work in Shreveport reside in Bossier precisely to escape the chronically cash-strapped central city; and many in the citizenry only want to concentrate on progressing economically in a family-oriented environment without dragging in the controversies of politics.
This combination has created a situation where an uninvolved public usually lets politicians do what they want without any real consequences. Bossier political elites seethe at the parish’s status as Shreveport’s bedroom community and desperately want to create a separate identity. To that end the city in particular, the parish somewhat less so, has chased a number of schemes that turned out fiscally unwell – overpaying for a money-losing arena, building a parking garage for an outdoor mall that went into receivership, footing tens of millions of dollars for a high-tech office building that has attracted only a fraction of the promised jobs, and so on.
As a result, Bossier City hasn’t seen awful governance, but it has squandered many opportunities to create conditions to stand out, as well as needlessly costing citizens in the form of higher utility bills, and continues in this pattern of going nowhere. Meanwhile, the same faces keep getting elected while much of the public seems content that it’s not Shreveport.
Yet this stout dose of indifference actually got topped this cycle by the non-happenings in the state House District 42. This spot opened up when Democrat Jack Montoucet took over the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, necessitating a special election.
For which no one, stunningly, qualified, something that likely has not happened in decades for a legislative seat. The district’s demographic trends indicated that Republican could wrest it, and talk circulated that Democrats would try to find a Republican in Name Only – as they did for Bossier’s special election for House District 8 – to contest this seat. Apparently they did not, but neither could Republicans come up with the genuine article.
Thus, qualifying reopens next week, with two fewer weeks of campaigning available, which makes even more daunting the task of running a credible campaign for the Mar. 25 election. Normally, considerable competition arises for open state legislative slots, so this episode actually supersedes Bossier City’s yawnfest for an uncaring electorate, although clearly over the long haul Bossier continues, of all of Louisiana’s mid-sized and larger districts, to have the most apathetic constituency.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 12:30