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NW LA produces most surprising 2015 election results

Perhaps the most surprising, and deviant, results from Louisiana’s round of state and local elections in 2015 came in the northwest part of the state – where big money outside of the area appears to have played significant roles in these contests.

In one instance, that accrued to the advantage of conservative political elements. Republican businessman Tony Davis narrowly defeated appointed incumbent Republican educator Mary Harris for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education District 4 seat. Davis entered late, backing the Common Core for State Standards Initiative and worked to expand school choice, while Harris opposed both.

Aided by large spending on his behalf by political action committees that favored education reform, Davis overcame a 43-36 percent deficit coming out of the general election, where the opponent who did not make the runoff sounded more like Harris than he. Possibly a change in rhetoric by Davis, from supporting Common Core to stating a desire to “scrap” it and to “revise and replace Common Core with our own Louisiana standards” – in other words, follow the current process taking place under the auspices of the Department of Education and Legislature – may have helped win over some voters.

But less conservative candidates prospered in the area’s other controversial races. Retired judge Democrat James Stewart and assistant district attorney Republican Dhu Thompson by the demographics seemed locked in a tight battle, but Stewart won without a lot of difficulty in gathering 55 percent of the vote. Rolling up around 97 percent of the vote in precincts with 95 percent or better black registration helped, but crucially he drew around 15 percent of the vote in precincts where at least 95 percent of voters were white.

Stewart benefitted from enormous spending on his behalf, with well over $600,000 raised either by his campaign or by the donations from liberal financier George Soros to a PAC run by local Democrat elites on Stewart’s behalf. That likely induced greater black turnout, which appeared to increase at twice the rate of white turnout with the overall turnout in the runoff up almost 20 percent, giving Stewart a comfortable margin.

The closest predicted, and thus perhaps the least surprising of these results, came in the Senate District 36 contest, where erstwhile House candidate and trial lawyer Republican Ryan Gatti slipped past Republican state Rep. Henry Burns by just over 300 votes out of nearly 28,000 cast. But it did prove very surprising in how he got there.

Even though Gatti has served in parish Republican Party machinery and claims he is a conservative, it appears that the liberal issue preferences that he espoused, against genuine school choice and tort reform, pushed him across the finish line first. A friend and backer of Democrat incoming Gov. John Bel Edwards, Democrats disproportionately appeared to turn to him in the runoff rather than former Democrat Burns, aided by over $50,000 in donations from trial lawyers, the most that any legislative candidate received.

This created interesting dynamics, where analysis of precincts with at least 60 percent registered Republicans gave him around 58 percent of the vote, but in those with at least 95 percent of registrants being black 70 percent voted for him; Burns did best in precincts with at least 95 percent registered whites where he garnered 52 percent of the vote. With Edwards as governor, the question now is whether Gatti will abandon his conservative district’s majority interests by voting often for the largely liberal articulated agenda of Edwards.

Trial lawyer money also played a part in the biggest surprise of the cycle, the Senate District 38 contest, where trial lawyer Democrat John Milkovich, like Gatti a previous candidate for another office performed poorly in that contest, edged out Republican state Rep. Richie Burford by about 1,400 votes out of nearly 30,000 – in a district that had not elected a Democrat in 28 years.

Undoubtedly Burford’s roots in the smaller-populated part of the district Desoto Parish, as opposed to Milkovich’s Caddo homestead that makes up almost four-fifths of the district’s electorate, did not help the GOP legislator in terms of numbers. But in a district with almost as many registered Republicans as black non-Republicans, it seemed a stretch that Milkovich could obtain close to half of the votes of white Democrats needed to win. His receiving over $45,000 from trial lawyers, the third most of any legislative candidate, as in Gatti’s case may have made the difference between winning and losing.

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