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Caddo elections figure into statue removal

As Caddo Parish sinks deeper into the political and legal morass involving its decision to remove the courthouse’s Confederate monument, election year politics come more firmly into play.

After the Parish Commission voted in 2017 to move the United Daughters of the Confederacy monument on the grounds since the early part of the 20th century then last year a federal court decided the parish owned the ground underneath the memorial which an appellate court upheld this year, in August the Commission sent the UDC chapter a demand letter to move the statuary in 90 days.

An analysis by Republican state Rep. Thomas Carmody, acting independently of his office and unpaid by the parties involved, told the Commission it used a faulty interpretation of the state’s Civil Code that might entice a suit should it try to move the monument. To add insult to injury, the UDC told the Commission to go pound sand.

So, last week a Commission panel moved to appropriate $500,000 for the task, but the whole body won’t act until the self-imposed deadline of late November passes. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case when it released its 2019-20 term schedule.

Whether that amount would suffice remains at issue. While a 2015 estimate sought by the parish put the cost at under $600,000, the UDC claims the figure runs at least twice that high. The parish must do it right because its liability could run into the millions if it damaged the object listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Meanwhile, elections loom this Saturday for six commission seats which could go to another round in two cases on Nov. 16 – days before the deadline. The timing isn’t coincidental.

The parish, even as it sits on considerable reserves, has proven reluctant to spend anything on necessary items such as expanding its juvenile detention facilities now at capacity and almost certain to face even more demand in the coming months. Citizens rightly can question Commission priorities if it spends moving an object not endangering anybody while hesitating to tamp down in juvenile crime.

That may prove particularly inconvenient for incumbent Democrats Lynn Cawthorne and Louis Johnson. Cawthorne will fight for his political life while fending off federal wire fraud and money laundering charges, while Johnson finds himself in the crosshairs of the former longtime holder of his seat. On the whole with this divisive issue, voters may not like their authorizing that spending in light of other needs.

It also could play a role in the only Democrat/Republican matchup, between GOP incumbent Mario Chavez who voted against removal and challenger Quinton Aught, who narrowly lost a Shreveport city council contest last year. Chavez no doubt would have liked to have a chance to vote against the appropriation to bolster his reelection credentials in a district that would seem to favor its staying.

After the elections also matters. The current crop of commissioners, who voted 8-4 to move the statue, want to finish the job. It’s possible that elections could result at least in a 6-6 deadlock to move the object if it came up again, or even (although unlikely) a majority wishing to overturn the past decision. But if present commissioners still are in office, as they will be until year’s end, they can push the process far enough along to make it an accomplished fate regardless of electoral outcomes.

Signaling that it will spend money to remove the monument before year’s end but after elections didn’t happen accidentally for the Commission’s majority behind that removal. Now we’ll see if it carries the task through successfully without creating a massive public relations problem.

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