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History gives Fields chance of Senate resurrection

He’s back, and he can win, although it’s less likely to happen than in another similar case seven years ago.

Democrat former Rep. Cleo Fields, who also served 14 years in the state Senate, will hold a fundraiser soon to reclaim his legislative post. Removed via term limits in 2008, his successor Democrat state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb must vacate for the same reason.

Despite nearly two decades in office, the most lasting image of Fields has him accepting an envelope with $20,000 in cash from Democrat former Gov. Edwin Edwards, who would later go to prison over charges presumably involving the source of those funds. Fields never faced charges and never has explained the transaction.

That hanging over his head alone might make any comeback attempt futile. Except this is Louisiana, and in 2011 another black Democrat showed how he could come out of the electoral wilderness despite something like this hanging over his head.

Over a dozen years earlier, Democrat state Sen. Greg Tarver joined Edwards in the docket as a conspirator in Edwards’ scheme, steering a gaming license illegally. Although Tarver beat the rap, the highly-publicized trial only fed suspicions that Tarver liked to play fast and loose with the rules when it came to shuttling government largesse to allies, including his family. Perhaps feeling now too politically wounded, he declined to run for a sixth term in 2003.

At the time, and continuing in diluted form to the present, in Shreveport’s black community competition for political power essentially came down to two factions, Tarver’s alliance and that of former state Rep. Alphonse Jackson. So, when voters made his successor Jackson’s daughter Lydia, that certainly made his exit more bitter.

Even as Tarver had gained a checkered reputation in office, he never had come off as a strict liberal ideologue. He would compromise with Republicans to make deals that bring home the bacon. By contrast, Jackson legislated as an ideological purist, most obnoxiously and mistakenly insinuating that racism lay behind Republican actions.

In 2011, Tarver smartly took advantage of that. He must have figured eight years out had rehabilitated him enough and that Jackson, in her second term up against Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal, had become increasingly shrill and because of that a less effective legislator. Knowing the GOP minority in the district could swing the election his way, he presented himself more moderately and made her the only Senate incumbent to lose reelection.

And, he has proven himself flexible, even with Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards in office that could afford an excuse to vote more ideologically. His Louisiana Legislature Log score of 45 over the past three years has made him one of the least liberal/populist Democrats in the Senate, and the least of black Democrats.

So, could Fields pull off the same? Perhaps, but less likely. The district he formerly served does have about the same proportion of Republicans as has Tarver’s.

But’s he no political moderate by any stretch of the imagination, much more a liberal automaton like Jackson. And his likely opponent, bailing from the House because of term limits Democrat state Rep. Pat Smith, is about joined at the hip with him ideologically. So, he won’t have the ability to court GOP voters and backing as did Tarver.

Still, Fields doesn’t face an incumbent and he’s never lost a race for that seat. It may come down to whether enough voters can get out of their heads that image from over twenty years past.

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