Bossier City voter apathy sabotages good governance
Attentive Bossier Citians got a rude reminder with its recent inauguration of its next government. In a democracy, ultimately we get the government we deserve. That’s Bossier City citizens have allowed about $100 million of their money to walk out the door over the past 15 years, because, as the recent city elections showed, they just don’t care enough.
Still, the fact remains of the disservice – but a disservice deserved through indifference. If you don’t argue, vote, and/or run against sorry officeholders, you deserve what you get, even as it costs the undeserving who do argue, vote, and run against them. Until this awakening occurs, both groups suffer equally.
The latest folly performed by city government was a needless $26 million giveaway of land, cash, expenses, and promises to a local developer. What prompted it is unclear, as it resulted from a legal settlement, but it appears that Bossier City’s government negotiated in bad faith with the developer, which became public only over a dispute about curb cuts. That cost each citizen about $414 that could have been avoided.
Yet even with this latest reminder of a string of bad decisions over those years, with many of the same people who made them running for reelection this time out – comprising six of the seven council districts and the mayor’s office – only one council member opted out, only one drew a challenger, and the only other one with competition saw a rematch of a previous special election that did not feature an incumbent, plus another challenger this time. This in and of itself was a sign of apathy that only two competitions out of eight occurred, and only one featured a politician who played a part in the bad decision-making.
(Interestingly, some have argued that this apathetic situation is a sign that Bossier City has provided good governance, apparently leaving satisfied customers out there in the electorate. By this same logic – voting back into office the same people or they get no competition as a sign of approval by voters – this assumes that Germany in 1933 when their voters gave the same old National Socialist Workers Party leaders the electoral plurality or elections in the Soviet Union where frequently candidates ran unopposed and got nearly every vote with a 99 percent turnout were models of outstanding governance to which Bossier City should aspire.)
But to make matters worse, of the two contests that did get votes cast, turnout was low to abominable. In the more competitive of the two, which featured short-time incumbent Larry Hanisee in a rematch again Tommie Harvey and Mischa Angel, only 1,057 made it to the polls with nothing else on the ballot, or turnout of 22 percent. That’s poor given it was the higher-stimulus by the spirited nature of the campaigning and Harvey had lost to Hanisee previously by fewer votes than fingers on a hand.
Yet these District 2 results make that electorate appear valorous compared to the no-shows of District 1, where the incumbent who helped make bad spending choices in the past, Scott Irwin, was challenged by Mike Beam – but almost in name only. Irwin, plugged into the good-old-boy network, campaigned vigorously with signs, fliers, and phone banks. By contrast, about all that was seen out of Beam was a few yard signs, most popping up on election day in illegal locations.
The district electorate responded with an underwhelming 9.5 percent turnout giving Irwin about a 3:1 win with just 545 votes out of 8,275 registrants. And this is a city where overall voting age population registration is just 67 percent compared to the 84 percent (and when adjusted for demographic factors – Louisiana’s nonwhite population is three percent higher than Bossier City’s – the spread is nearly 20 percent lower registration). This confirms a central problem of democratic capital in Bossier City – a significant portion of the electorate that is disengaged politically.
Perhaps this is exacerbated by elections held when they are, in the spring a year after a presidential election. Almost never on any Bossier Parish municipal ballot at this time is there any other kind of non-municipal election. Maybe in changing election dates to coincide with other national, state, or local elections this might capture more interest among people, who in their voting behavior do seem as interested as those in any other parishes in national or state elections (turnouts being typically as high or higher than the state average for these).
However, the real problem is too many in Bossier simply don’t care about local government. Many are short-timers in the area, and others moved there to get away from Shreveport including its politics even as their professional lives continue to be in Shreveport, so neither have interest in local affairs of a bedroom community. And they don’t understand the damage the Scott Irwins of the world have done and what more they can do as long as they can have a quiet suburban life, for it has been potential only squandered mostly by Irwin and the other incompetents (aside from the negative impact of the 2009 budget meltdown) which hopefully does not eventually turn Bossier City into another bankrupt Stockton, CA.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 13:05