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NW LA elections feature clash between old, new

Upcoming elections in Caddo and Bossier Parishes revive the ongoing struggle between the old ways of politics and modernization.

This Saturday, Caddo voters face five ballot propositions, although Shreveporters don’t participate in a sales tax maneuver that combines two existing millages for general parish operations worth 1.5 percent on sales for approval into perpetuity. The other four renew property taxes, but in controversial ways.

These take propositions to fund generally facilities, the health unit, the juvenile court and detention center, and courthouse operations, and attempt to extend their terms early, anywhere from over one to four years prior to expiration. That tactic may stem from the humiliating 2013 defeat of a bond issue for capital improvements, repeated in 2014, which would have had the effect of taking the 1.55 mill rate at the time and elevating it to the full 1.75 mill rate allowed for general obligation debt.

The same dynamic comes into play with this batch. While all together the four started out with a combined 6.54 mill rate, over the years the Commission did not vote to roll these forward, so these automatically declined by 2015 to a rate of 6.08. But the renewals ask for 6.31, and the approval of any would allow for a tax increase. Thus, the Commission may fear electoral resistance to these tax hikes and believe it will need multiple attempts to force these through, hence the early start.

As has developed as the major issue ever since the Haynesville Shale boom flushed parish coffers – with unrestricted cash-equivalent reserves ballooning from $17.2 million in 2005 to $63.8 million by 2015 and cash tied to ongoing capital projects rising over this decade by more than half to greater than $92 million – why would the parish want to increase taxes when the population has remained stable and so many dollars lie fallow? Voters again may rebel against the old notion that government must continue to expand regardless of genuine constituent needs.

In Bossier, a showdown of different sets of elites will occur in the House District 8 runoff to succeed Republican Rep. Mike Johnson. The general election had Republican Raymond Crews gain 41 percent to lead Republican Robbie Gatti by four percent.

Gatti represents the old Bossier political establishment, those who get along and go along with expanding local government of whom many started out political life affiliated with Democrats, and the reduced numbers of Democrats in one of the most conservative districts in Louisiana. Crews comes from the reformist wing of the local GOP that supports smaller government, like his ally Johnson not part of the good old boy network.

Who aids each campaign reflects the divide. Crews has attracted money from a number of prominent area Republicans plus business-oriented political action committees, while Gatti has obtained donations from those who typically support Democrats and has union PAC money behind him. GOP Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker is Gatti’s only prominent endorser, while Crews has lined up endorsements from Republicans Johnson, Sen. John Kennedy, Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry, two-time populist conservative Senate candidate Rob Maness, and one of the two Republicans vanquished in the runoff.

The race has become defined by Gatti’s past and present foibles. He fumbled his explanation as to why he wore blackface to a party in a way more obfuscating than providing clarity, and has said nothing about his reported incuriosity about renting property to a massage parlor that likely engaged in illegal activities. Gatti has served as such an imperfect candidate that a theory surfaced in The Hayride website arguing he ran only to supplement the ability of his brother state Sen. Ryan Gatti to work out a pardon for their brother Regan, currently jailed for life.

As a result, while Crew’s advertising since the first election has stuck to various issues, Robbie Gatti’s has taken on an “us-against-the-world” tone that echoes Ryan Gatti’s successful 2015 bid, emphasizing social conservatism, framing reform in the direction of school choice as an attack on local schools, and generally railing against “special interests,” in this case allegedly “dishonestly” attacking him, interests that he ties to the “puppet” Crews.

The 22 percent not choosing either candidate previously appear more likely to vote for Crews than Gatti, so the former is the favorite. If Crews does win, this will deal another blow to the Bossier regulars, who worked against Johnson’s election.

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