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Different Senate outcomes in NW LA provide same lesson

Louisiana's Legislature has reconvened for a new term, with few incumbents of any kind running for office not winning. State Senate contests in northwest Louisiana proved exceptional and instructive in this regard, and deserve review as to why incumbents and psuedo-incumbents do lose -- and this already has made a difference in policy.

After the general election in October, Caddo and Bossier Parishes had the singular distinction of having the only legislative district in the entire state where a current incumbent was defeated by a non-incumbent, when Sen. Barrow Peacock took just more than half as many tries for elective state government office as had state Rep. Barbara Norton to notch a win. On his fourth try, the Republican became the senator-elect for District 37 by defeating former state Rep. Jane Smith in a contest many observers had thought was hers to lose.

Smith of the GOP carried the backing of many state Republicans all the way to the top, having been one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s floor leaders.
After a dozen years in office, she had plenty of opportunity to accumulate chits for support monetarily, her district that she had won once without opposition and twice against opponents easily made up a significant chunk of her intended target, and the majority of its residents lived in her home parish of Bossier. Yet each of these presumed strengths carried weaknesses as well.

Because of the more transient and less involved politically nature of the Bossier electorate, her registered voter base actually was smaller than Peacock’s in Caddo. This campaign, as it turned out, was the first serious one she ever had to run. And, to some her long service proved a detriment, as she took advantage of trying to stay in elective office despite being term limited in her present position by running for this spot in the other chamber. To them, it seemed a violation of the spirit of term limits, especially as she once had stated she would not run again immediately for a legislative spot after finishing her current term.

By contrast, Peacock had this larger base and had run in more of it than Smith previously by virtue of his 2007 attempt in largely the same district (before it faced reapportionment). In that one and in his other two previous runs for House District 9 (also a significant chunk of that being within the present Senate boundaries) he had campaigned hard and been increasingly competitive every time. And, his outsider status (although also connected to party politics by serving as an elected party official) especially contrasted with the view of Smith as a career politician trying to use a kind of loophole to retain office.

But perhaps the perception issue that gave Peacock his margin, which only reinforced Smith’s insider status when that image has come under increasing suspicion, Smith created when she appeared to broker a land use deal that a served to cause confusion and potential chaos in transportation planning in Caddo Parish that favored a notable supporter. The ill-feelings she generated from the aura that she intervened to assist a Bossier developer and city councilman for self-serving purposes opposed to larger community needs in Caddo may have made the difference in Peacock’s narrow win.

Candidacies know when they are in trouble and one could see this coming in the last couple of weeks of the campaign, when Smith claimed Peacock was not steadfastly conservative by taking a remark of his about having an open mind out of context. The strained nature of it reeked desperation, and, even though Smith plowed in nearly a quarter million dollars of mostly contributed monies throughout the year to try to hammer it home, Peacock spent about $100,000 more over the year, the vast majority self-financed, to fend her off.

Different issues but a similar lesson may be drawn from state Sen. Greg Tarver reclaiming his seat at the expense of previous two-term incumbent who had replaced him Lydia Jackson. While the two black Democrats represented opposing factions built around different political families that now have coalesced roughly around pro- and anti-Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover groups, Tarver won because he made himself look more connected to the district than Jackson.

Jackson did herself no favors by taking a confrontational and ideological approach to her office, marginalizing herself as liberal Democrats became scarcer in Baton Rouge. Tarver has his own baggage, widely believed to have skirted the legal problems that took down Prisoner #03128-95, better known as former Gov. Edwin Edwards. Both candidates also looked silly in flaps over pictures designed to deceive in campaign fliers.

But he effectively enough hung around Jackson an image of being ineffective and detached. He alleged she benefitted from a federal government contract while unable to prevent cuts in the state budget (even as in reality she stumped for tax increases to enable the state to spend more) that harmed the district. He pointed out that his family business was in the heart of the district, while she based herself downtown (at her employer) away from it. At the same time, he cleverly sought support from non-Democrats in the contest while the state party went all in with Jackson with in-kind aid.

In the end, despite misgivings about his past, enough white and Republican voters must have decided they would prefer going with the get-along, go-along questionable character than a shrill, knee-jerk partisan, making Jackson the only incumbent senator running for reelection to lose this cycle. Tarver won the election in the northwestern, rural, and majority white precincts that cast 17 percent of the total vote in the district where he got 65 percent of the vote, outpacing Jackson by nearly a thousand there in a race he won by less than 900.

The results of these contests mattered. Don't cry for Smith -- she parachuted into a plush executive branch gig -- but in early results Peacock has proven to be a legislator with even more fidelity to Jindal's reform agenda. Tarver also has been more sympathetic than Jackson ever would have been to it as well. Already, they have helped make a difference in the success of that agenda.

The final analysis showed in both instances enough voters turned off by incumbents both real and pseudo- that they saw as responsive more to their own agendas than to the people’s. Let future candidates note this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That "plush executive branch gig" that Jane Smith "parachuted into" is in the "Scorecard's" Dept. of Revenue, isn't it?

Thank you, Governor, for continuing to provide execellent executive branch management.