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Montgomery switch may turn out to be mistake

State Rep. Billy Montgomery switched from Democrat to Republican because he believed it would be “easier” to win state Senate District 37 next year. It’s a gamble that easily could backfire.

Montgomery has represented District 9 since 1987 but runs up against term limits in 2007. In a bid to keep his political career alive, he hopes to move into (literally, having declared a new residence there only at the beginning of October) District 37 to take over from another term-limited politician, Republican Max Malone. Obviously, Montgomery’s views haven’t changed from one day to the next; his rationale for switching now, about a year out, appears to be a bid to intimidate potential Republican candidates from pursuing this spot, representing perhaps the most conservative district in the state.

Supposing that was his objective it’s almost certain to fail, and makes him more vulnerable than ever. Many longer-standing Republicans in both Caddo and Bossier Parishes (the district straddles both) have asserted there will be a conservative challenger to the liberal (but moderating in the past year) Montgomery. In fact, already two such candidates have expressed interest, one having run for state office before, the other having served in local office. Republican activists hope all can unite around one quality candidate, which would decisively defeat the goal of Montgomery’s tactic to switch and to do it at this time.

If a quality, well-funded conservative challenger enters the race, Montgomery does have serious problems, because his only advantage in that instance, money (at the end of 2005 he had nearly $100,000 on hand after raising over $100,000 that year), can be countered. For one thing, this new district he likely seeks is precisely that, new to him. The boundaries of District 9 and it overlap just barely, with just four precincts shared between the two, representing only 9 percent of the Senate district and less than 23 percent of his old district.

Further, not only is he a stranger to the new district, in many ways he’s a stranger to his current one. Montgomery has not had to campaign against an opponent since 1991; a lot of water has passed under the bridge since and the area he wishes to represent, not so much on the Caddo side (with about 52 percent of the voters) but very much the Bossier side, has changed dramatically, and so has the nature of campaigning.

In addition, even as Montgomery has started to moderate his voting record in the House, plenty of recent votes of his would make conservative voters scratch their heads wondering why he calls himself Republican. As a point of reference, most of House District 6 is part of the Senate district, which is itself perhaps the most conservative House district in the state, represented by probably the most conservative member of the House, Mike Powell. On 10 key votes in the past two years, from taxes to perks for legislators to wasteful spending on reservoirs to raising the minimum wage to government regulation of gasoline sales, Powell and Montgomery have been on opposite sides 9 of those times. (And, to state the obvious, it was Montgomery in favor of the tax hike, the perks, raising the minimum wage, regulating gas prices, and wasteful spending, among other things.)

To be sure, Montgomery’s record for those two years and many more will be highlighted by a quality candidate. As well, a number of others promise to highlight Montgomery’s record (such as the invaluable, fast becoming the spot for information about how Bossier Parish politicians vote on important issues).

Where this move really can backfire is Montgomery now has opened up the opportunity for a Democrat challenger. Had he remained a Democrat, no serious candidate of that label would have entered the contest. Should one do so, he will get squeezed by this candidate and a conservative Republican. The switch made sense only if he knew no quality GOP candidate would emerge, but the way things are going, it looks as if he miscalculated on that account.

Montgomery made many good decisions roaming the hardwood as a basketball coach, a career he voluntarily left. This decision well might cause his involuntary departure from political office.

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