Search This Blog


Apathy ruining chances for better govt in Bossier City

When incumbents not only win reelections but also without any opposition, it signals that one of two or both things are happening. And in the case of Bossier City’s municipal elections, it’s more of a bad sign than good.

The statistics certainly are discouraging. After the bloodletting of 2001, in 2005 the seven spots for Bossier City’s Council attracted eight candidates, while the only open contest of the bunch, mayor, attracted two one of which was the city’s then Chief Administrative Officer Lo Walker. In 2009, with the only open contest being a council seat, for the seven slots 10 candidates are running, with the only challenge to an incumbent being for one of the two at-large positions which did not succeed. Walker faced no opposition.

So why the quiescence in the past two cycles? Political science research offers one explanation in the form of a public relatively satisfied with the performance of its officeholders. And it’s true that Bossier City is not suffering any fiscal stress unlike Shreveport, thanks largely to the good fortune of having a trust fund throw off cash collected from gambling operations, and being mostly a bedroom/retail community beyond the casinos and Barskdale Air Force Base putting less strain on city services. Particularly in comparison to its larger neighbor, things can look good.
But even if this provides some explanation, other factors probably account for the greater part of this quietude. They take on a negative aura because they stem from low levels of citizen involvement which typically is considered a sign of disease in a political system, and in Bossier City’s case this may stem from several sources.

First, Bossier City’s population is much more transient or recent in its origins. Because of Barksdale, thousands of voting-eligible residents at any given time are within a couple of years of arriving and leaving, and therefore most have little stake in the local political system other than schools if they have children. Further, the continuing population growth means a larger proportion than typical of newcomers who are not yet invested into the local political scene comprise the pool of possible electors. All in all, this produces reduced political interest as a whole. (It’s reflected in registration statistics, which are about 10 percent below average.)

Second, the electoral calendar dampens political involvement. Unlike most jurisdictions in the state, Bossier City elections being right after quadrennial presidential races without any other regularly-scheduled contests on the ballot creates little incentive for attention to be paid and subsequent turnout. In 2005, turnout was miserably just below 10 percent and even in the high-stimulus 2001 contest it did not even reach 20 percent. Only months earlier in 2004, over two-thirds turned out for federal elections.

Third, politics in Bossier Parish are insular and small-town in nature. In recent decades, almost all elected city officials either come from families that have resided in Bossier City for decades, or are Air Force retirees, or both. They often intermingle for decades through schooling and business arrangements and have as tight of a good-old-boy network as anywhere. This makes it difficult for outsiders to come in and to override enough the social networks to get money to run and votes to win, bringing substantial disincentives to challengers to this tight system absent contentious issues.

And there isn’t really such an issue out there in 2009. True, Bossier City government, backed by the trust fund, has become a notorious spendthrift where the city’s fiscal liberals that run its government could show Pres. Barack Obama a thing or two about wasteful, big spending on unneeded arenas, parking garages for private developers, and pie-in-the-sky business incubators that have cost city taxpayers about $112 million, taking $1,600 from the pocket of every man, woman, and child in the city for monuments to themselves. (Not to mention the huge increase in city spending over the past decade, far beyond the inflation or population growth rates.)

However, while this may not escape notice of the politically attentive (at least those who are not on the receiving end of this transfer of wealth), given the dynamics noted above few in Bossier City watch much over city politics. It’s a lot easier to miss observing lost opportunities (think how much lower taxes/fees and/or debt payments could be with $112 million earning or not having to pay off interest) than events like placing an arena next to neighborhoods that didn’t want it and its costs escalating way beyond initial projections. So the apathetic critical mass promises little punishment for these mistakes.

While these policy blunders are the fault of these spendaholics and their imperious attitudes (such as Walker’s recent pronouncement to opponents of another bloated budget that can like it or lump it until these elections, or one of the incumbents defeated in 2001 referring to the citizens sneeringly as the “little people”), Bossier Citians also must blame themselves because they not only keep these annoyances in office, most hardly even resist come election time. We have met the enemies of sound Bossier City governance, and they are us.

No comments: