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19.7.20

Perkins challenge Cassidy? Not so fast ...

The weakest link in a purported plan for Louisiana Democrats to front Democrat Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins as a Senate pump-primer is his willingness to go along with the deal.

As qualifying for the fall Senate election for Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy’s seat looms, no Democrat of any significance has signaled intent to challenge him. No major party likes to give a free pass to an incumbent from the other in either gubernatorial or senatorial contests because you have to keep giving your voters a reason to call themselves your voters. Making them troop habitually to the polls by serving up candidates with at least a chance of winning, however remote, keeps the ground fertile for future opportunities to flip that office.

Thus has circulated the idea that, to offer up somebody who could pull more than a quarter of the vote, Democrat donors and activists led by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards have pressured Perkins to challenge Cassidy. Not only could this provide a quality candidate, given Perkins’ current status, but it also would provide a public relations boost for state Democrats because, despite blacks having comprised the majority of the party’s base for years, its leadership only once has given serious backing from the start to a black candidate in a major statewide contest – convicted former Rep. Bill Jefferson’s run for governor in 1999. Even within the past three years, getting it to rally behind a black candidate for any statewide office has been like pulling teeth.

So, the party can distance itself from the notion it supports black politicians only as cynical lip service to collect black votes by its backing Perkins now. And, the move also could serve the fading political ambitions of Edwards, whose only path to continued relevance would entail a long shot bid to knock off Republican Sen. John Kennedy in 2022. Having Perkins, who needn’t stand again for mayor until that year, take a free shot this year could remind (especially black) Democrats that they need to hit the polls almost every year to vote that way for statewide offices.

It’s as good a plan as any to give Democrats any shot at all to win any of the three significant offices elected statewide in the near future. If only Perkins goes along with it.

For if Perkins wishes to keep his office in Government Plaza, it’s probably better that he passes on the Senate. The last thing he needs is more attention on his time in office.

Keep in mind that Perkins won in 2018 only because, like Edwards in 2015, he could present himself as a tabula rasa onto which he could write appealing-enough messages to draw a majority. Edwards proceeded to govern against the state’s majority, but, drawing upon the state’s diminishing populist political culture and a national economic renaissance with policies the opposite of his cushioning Louisiana’s economic deterioration under his policies, still managed to eke out reelection.

Perkins has problems of a different, more threatening, sort. Out of the gate he committed a series of policy, if not ethical, missteps that soured both city politicians and citizens. More recent decisions, such as staking city economic development on a bloated, uncertain project with high upfront costs and making the city a participant in a welfare entitlement scheme drive away more than attract future voters.

This makes him vulnerable to challenge not so much from the right, but the left, principally in the form of Shreveport Democrat Councilor Levette Fuller, who has positioned herself (interestingly, given her progressive background) as a good government advocate opposing Perkins’ controversial moves. She also recently has gotten out in front of efforts to investigate Shreveport police actions against a mentally disturbed man who died in custody.

The blemish on her trajectory became visible again last week when a court erased her drunk driving conviction from last year, after she successfully completed her sentence. The incident where she was found fairly incoherently in her car near her residence in many instances could keep the lid on a political career for a considerable time, if not forever.

Except that in this instance, Perkins may be way, way vulnerable. Scuttlebutt around Shreveport has been that Perkins has been stopped for drunk driving four times since April, with the last occasion allegedly earlier in July. Supposedly, his administration and cooperative police officials have prevented any leakage of official documents and/or testimony to corroborate. This has led to speculation that, if Perkins engages in such behavior, it stems from mental health issues explicated in his military service records that he never has released publicly.

None of this is proven to have happened. But if any of it were true, you can bet it would come out if he ran for the Senate, and it would doom any chance he has for reelection, much less defeat Cassidy. That argues for Perkins passing on the plan, which then would intensify the gossip, but, if any of it is true, would represent his best chance to ride out the speculation to win reelection.

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