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Only Caddo commissioners troubled in 2015 elections

Old stand-bys did well in northwest Louisiana’s two most populous parishes’ state and local elections – unless you were a member of the Caddo Parish Commission, signaling public revulsion against it that finally took a scalp.

Bossier Parish featured few competitive contests where establishment political forces essentially ran the table. State Rep.-elect Dodie Horton succeeded her boss, state Rep. Henry Burns who chose to run for the state Senate, easily, while chief to the present Clerk of Court Jill Sessions took that job with as little difficulty. Incumbents won the other few contested races in the parish.

In contests where the major portion of the district resided in Bossier, only Burns found himself in a runoff, with fellow Republican Ryan Gatti who had tried to present himself as the more conservative alternative to Burns in one of the most conservative Senate districts in the state – unconvincingly. Gatti appears willing as a legislator to roll back effective education reforms and of legislative candidates was one of the top recipients of campaign money from trial lawyers: tort reform looks to be a legislative priority for next year, and this support indicates Gatti would oppose reforms to improve what the American Tort Reform Association identifies as one of the worst state legal environments in the country.

Add to these his relationship with gubernatorial candidate state Rep. John Bel Edwards, who has voted as a liberal Democrat on most issues in his career, so if Edwards can pull the upset to win the governor’s race Gatti would be unlikely to oppose vigorously his leftist policy preferences, and conservatives must question whether he can be an effective voice for them. Ironically, his push to appear as a conservative coupled with Burns' long history in office with many years of that as a Democrat gives Burns as decisive edge in the runoff phase.

In Caddo, incumbents and their facsimiles did well for the most part. Incumbent legislators running met with little resistance, and former Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover recaptured his old House seat, breaking a streak where the five previous mayors either did not try or failed to return to an elective office of some kind. Former appellate Judge James Stewart ran first in what promises to be a close contest for First Judicial District Attorney.

The exception was for Parish Commission. In recent years, the body has gained notoriety for its flights of fanciful spending, on projects such as three-wheeled cars and on its own members in terms of salary and benefits, as well as its efforts to try first to abolish, then to lengthen, term limits. Most controversially it has come under fire for an unconstitutional scheme regarding member health benefits that has continued for nearly two decades.

That’s not something constituents in Democrat-majority districts have seemed too concerned about, perhaps because relatively few tax dollars come from these to finance parish government. Those incumbents cruised back into office, with the exception of Michael Williams, whom a grand jury indicted this spring for defrauding the Parish, with the trial pending. He narrowly trailed challenger Democrat and former Glover staffer Steven Jackson into a runoff, where he must be considered the underdog.

The two Republicans’ performances were shakier. Commissioner Jim Smith held off Parker Ward, a perennial candidate for local offices who performed far better this time out, while Commissioner John Escude’ saw his political career effectively ended when he failed to make the runoff for District 8 that will feature retired law enforcement officer Mike Middleton and Metropolitan Planning Commission chairwoman Lea Desmarteau.

While Escude’ had served as the commissioner from the district for much of the last two decades, with an interlude out of office over a residency change, the conservative district finally tired of his unreliability as a conservative, as he was one of the biggest cheerleaders for parish government as venture capitalist and for diluting term limits, and in defending the part-time commissioners’ lucrative compensation. That hubris overriding good sense was what led me to run against him in his first try for that office, and it finally caught up to him in the electoral arena.

By contrast, a Republican commissioner initially believed by observers to face a tough battle, Matthew Linn, won a final term going away. He faced a presumably quality opponent in former Democrat and Caddo Parish School Board member Charlotte Crawley, but Linn’s record was less profligate and self-aggrandizing than the likes of Escude’ (for a travel budget that faced criticism, at least his expenditures seemed to reflect education in government, while others like Escude’ apparently spent theirs on junkets). Even though Crawley ran as an other party candidate in the conservative district, in 2014 voters were even less enamored with the School Board than they were with the Commission this year, and undoubtedly this impression carried over to her nearly four-to-one defeat.

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