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Establishment politicians take hit in NW LA elections

Dissatisfaction at the ruling class was apparent. How deep it ran was the surprise.

Last month, Caddo Parish voters rejected all five ballot propositions presented to them after high-profile campaigns for and against the four Caddo parish-wide property measures. These that attempted to renew taxes at higher millage rates than at the initial approval levels all narrowly lost.

Evidently the opponents’ arguments hit home. They noted that the increases came on top of reserves that equaled about double the parish’s budget, a level approximately 20 times higher than the typical local government’s. Further, the taxes would not expire soon, but from 2019-22. They critiqued whether the parish needed more money than ever, and why ask for it prematurely.

The results reflected voter anger at the Parish Commission for the early, higher renewals given the reserve amount not so much in turnout, which at around 8 percent didn’t tick much above historical norms, but in the patterns of early voting. Just over a fifth cast ballot prior to election day, and across all four roughly 70 percent voted for the taxes. Parish employees and the courthouse gang who does much business and/or interacts frequently with the parish historically disproportionately comprise these individuals for such votes.

But of the remainder who participated on election day, across the quartet 56 percent rejected these. The parish, which saw an attempt in 2013 to renew a tax supporting a fund for discretionary capital spending barely lose and then get crushed in 2014, probably suspected something similar would happen and therefore will make multiple attempts to force these back into reality, hence the extremely early first try. Given the election calendar, the next possible attempt could occur only late this year.

However, the big shock came in the huge defeat of a combination of two existing sales tax levies affecting only voters outside of Shreveport or Vivian. The pair total 1.5 percent to fund capital items, petitioned in the vote to send these into perpetuity. That permanence likely turned off voters, but given the nearly two-to-one drubbing the proposition took, even a retry with a reasonable lifespan to it may not succeed.

It remains an open question whether commissioners get it, after the public has shot down most of its measures in the past four years, and will scale back the charges. That ought to work for the property taxes, which generate money for continuing operations, but as the sales taxes go to capital outlay, voters may prefer first tapping reserves. They also may see that as an indirect way, by forcing the parish to use reserves for genuine needs, to get it to stop blowing their bucks on things like financing production of three-wheeled vehicles.

Across the river, the political establishment suffered another setback with the large loss by Republican Robbie Gatti in the special election for Louisiana House of Representatives District 8. The brother of GOP state Sen. Ryan Gatti, Robbie Gatti had local governing elites’ backing but carried significant personal baggage into the contest, while conservative elites and interest groups rallied behind the winner, Republican Raymond Crews. In fact, Robbie Gatti received a smaller proportion of the vote than he did in the general election.

Emerging as the larger question is whether the results served as a repudiation of Ryan Gatti. His brother could not replicate the strategy that elected him, a decrying tax increases and education reform while pitching himself as a social conservative.

For the future, Ryan Gatti the blank slate no longer exists, especially after producing a 2016 legislative record largely mimicking the liberal tax-and-spend economic agenda of Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, his friend from law school. According to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry’s voting scorecard, Gatti not only favored big spending and higher taxes more than any Republican from the area, he did so more often than any Republican in the entire Legislature and more often than any area senator, including the two Democrats. Statewide, only nine Democrats supported big government more than did Gatti.

That disappointing record to the coalition that elected Crews, having flexed its muscles in this instance, in 2019 has every incentive to reassemble in backing a replacement for Gatti and in working against his reelection. Unless Gatti transforms into a genuine conservative in the next couple of years, the tally from his brother’s attempt for office signals he will not succeed in winning again.

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