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Associations to play big role in HD 8 election

Associations past and present will play an important role determining the victor of the Louisiana House of Representatives District 8 contest this spring.

On Mar. 25, voters in northern Bossier Parish will head to the polls for the special election to replace Republican Rep. Mike Johnson after his recent win. With just a shade under half of the district’s registrants signed up as Republicans, this may be the most conservative House seat in the state. A Democrat has not even tried to run since 1995.

But that doesn’t mean fellow travelers of that party have not made an attempt in the past two decades. In 2003, lawyer Ryan Gatti came up way short against former Rep. Jane Smith. A dozen years later, Gatti narrowly won the state Senate post from the area, in the process openly aiding Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards in his upset victory.

In his first year in office, Gatti adopted the playbook traditionally used by white Democrats – vote conservatively on social issues, but support big government through increased taxing and spending and fought challenges to limited government such as in opposing school choice. And similar Republican in Name Only DNA appears to contest the current District 8 election, in the form of his brother Robbie Gatti.

It’s hazardous to assign the sins of the brother, but Robbie Gatti’s choices indicate he could be a Democrat in Republican sheep’s clothing. He rented out his business’ office space to Edwards for campaign headquarters and he and Ryan Gatti campaigned hard against Johnson in favor of the most moderate GOP candidate in that contest – so hard that it caused considerable division within the congregation of the church where Robbie Gatti serves as a pastor, as Johnson has unimpeachable social conservative credentials.

However, no Democrat running could give Robbie Gatti a leg up in as the de facto Democrat in the race. Yet with those registrants comprising just around a quarter of the electorate, that only goes so far, so he also seems to make a play for capturing the establishment political interests in Bossier Parish. His only path to winning would be to disallow any opponent from grabbing the majority of the genuine conservative vote.

Certainly, former candidate and retired firefighter Duke Lowrie, who racked up a credible 43 percent of the vote in 2011, had the chance to do so, except for his 2015 posting on social media a message that he would not patronize businesses with Muslim employees due to his feeling that Islam too easily encourages violence. Despite his previous and current campaigning demonstrating him a full-spectrum conservative entirely supportive of limited government and traditional social values, that parochial comment may discourage some Republicans from backing him.

If so, former military and civilian pilot Raymond Crews has the opportunity to capitalize. Crews, who serves actively at his church and as a small business owner, allies with Johnson, not the least of which in their sharing full-spectrum conservative views. The Bossier political establishment never was a big fan of Johnson’s, but if Crews’ campaign can ignite the same fervor as did Johnson among the district’s electorate – to the point no one challenged Johnson in two attempts – he will prove tough to deny.

And an interesting wild card also jumped in the race. Freshly-minted lawyer Patrick Harrington brings potential to the contest. Always graduating at the head of his classes and serveing in top student government positions, he recently received his law degree after spending time as the student representative on the Louisiana Board of Regents. He also ran for mayor of Benton fresh out of his undergraduate studies and sat on the parish’s Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Like Robbie Gatti, family ties also could come into consideration in his campaigning. His father was longtime area lawyer Pat Harrington, who ran into professional and legal troubles in the 1990s. His young age thus lack of real world experience also may work against him.

Given the typical somnambulant nature of Bossier City elections that happen at the same time – actually hardly occurring at all, because city incumbents ran disappointingly without opposition in every case except one – at least this race should provide some political excitement during this area’s election cycle.

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