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Shaw defeating Montgomery provides lessons for NW LA

We can draw several lessons from former state Rep. B.L. “Buddy” Shaw’s besting of outgoing state Rep. Billy Montgomery in the Senate District 37 contest, but perhaps the most important is the sign of continued maturation of the area’s electorate.

Almost a year ago when Shaw began talking of running for the office, he knew that the perception could form among voters that, at 74 years of age, he was a bit long in the tooth to be pursuing the job, especially given a younger candidate already was in the race and a couple half his age would join. So he (and his wife) embarked upon a vigorous walking campaign that would have driven most politicians into the ground which had to dispel any thought that he wasn’t up to the job physically.

It also reaffirmed one of the truisms us political scientists have discovered concerning local campaigns: by far the most effective strategy is personal contact. While it’s very time- and energy-consuming, it’s relatively inexpensive and enormously effective. This basic tenet seemed to escape Montgomery, who had not run a campaign in 20 years and his expressions of befuddlement about why he lost confirms it.

Montgomery seemed to think that meet-and-greets and an avalanche of money (likely five times what Shaw spent, probably half a million dollars making it the most expensive campaign in state Senate history) could win it which, under typical circumstances with such a monetary disparity, might have worked. But Montgomery’s problem basically was he was a fraud in the minds of many in a district who had known little of him before the campaign.

In a sense, Montgomery represents vigorous resistance to the passing of an era when a lack of information about a legislator’s record and state political news combined with an affable nature was enough to get Louisiana legislators elected. Montgomery’s past legislative behavior that smacked of liberal populism simply did not comport to the policy preferences of perhaps the most conservative Senate district in the state. Modern technology that got information out about his record plus the visible, contrasting view Shaw energetically disseminated could not be papered over by Montgomery calling himself a Republican and spending all outdoors publicizing the stuff he claimed he had and could bring back from Baton Rouge.

It also helped that local and state Republicans took the rare step of backing one Republican over another, to alert voters of the difference (even as Montgomery had admitted he switched from Democrat out of political necessity). And other GOP opponents Jay Murrell and Barrow Peacock hammered home the same message that Montgomery was out of touch with the policy interests of his new district. But none of this publicity could have made the difference unless a majority in the district was ready for fundamental change.

Simply, enough rejected the infantile model that bringing back stuff defined the quality of representation. Rather, they prefer that government take less in the first place thereby creating better conditions for the individual to succeed, instead of tolerating increased government interference offset by throwing a few more baubles their way.

It was particularly encouraging to see in Bossier Parish that Montgomery, it being his home base, won there by such a narrow margin. More than most places, Bossier government elites have been enthralled in courting saviors, whether they be military installations, casinos, retailers, or whatever, and lavishing public monies on them, rather than making sure the people keep as much of their own money as possible that creates economic growth beyond what government can micromanage. And they have done the same old thing because the people generally have been too accepting of the old way of doing things.

Despite the protestations of those elites like Bossier Sheriff Larry Deen who had mailers going out denying Montgomery was a “good old boy,” it takes one to know one and many voters had it figured out despite such denials or diversionary tactics. It signals maturation on the part of the electorate as a whole which again denied the dream of the good old boy network that runs Bossier to get a companion senator for fellow big government advocate Robert Adley.

Perhaps this signals a turning point in the parish’s political path. Next year really has no elections of consequence, but Bossier City elections loom in 2009 with a number of current officials fitting the Montgomery profile up for reelection. Only after those contests will we know for sure whether the Shaw victory represents a temporary or sustained change in direction.

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