Chavez, until recently a Republican and local party official, declared his run for the office by asserting he would run without a partisan label. This emulated the Monroe no party mayor, who despite backing from local GOP elites (and the spouse of a Republican state elected official) eschewed a label. Facing an electorate about five-eighths black and dominated by Democrats, he knocked off a long-time incumbent from that party by stressing his business credentials and critiquing the incumbent’s record.
However, for Chavez the dynamics differ somewhat than just refusing to call himself a Republican in the hopes of adding non-Republicans disgruntled with the ethical and policy missteps of Democrat incumbent Mayor Adrian Perkins to Republicans attracted by his conservative voting record on the Commission – until recently. For to prevent too many conservatives from sticking with Republican candidate Tom Arceneaux – Ellis didn’t have to face any quality GOP challenger – Chavez must continue to demonstrate conservative credentials that his Commission work puts on display.
Which he didn’t do in last week’s work session meetings prior to the Commission’s meeting (the body convenes a day prior to its regular meeting as a committee that vets proposed items to determine whether members formally will take up measures the next day). Its six Democrats, now five Republicans, and Chavez rejected three controversial items.
One concerned cutting down a tree next to the courthouse that supposedly less spiritually-evolved Shreveporters in the past used to lynch blacks – even though one source lists the last lynching by hanging in Caddo Parish, which may or may not have occurred next to the courthouse, as occurring in 1916 when several seedlings apparently were planted near the building in 1904. Another used an apology on behalf of parish government for past misdeeds to blacks like the lynchings as a mask for asserting “systemic white privilege has continued.” And the last was a pay raise to nearly $1,900 a month for the legally-defined part-time job that for many years automatically increased along with whenever automatic parish employee hikes happened to make it the highest-paid local government job of its kind in the state (by contrast, Shreveport city councilors make about half of that).
Chavez voted to advance all of these decidedly non-conservative issue preferences (Republican Jean-Paul Young also joined him on the apology; otherwise all Republicans present voted against these and all Democrats present did the opposite). If a conservative wants to slip into an office by peeling off some non-conservative votes, it’s not unexpected that on a few low salience issues he might break ranks, and on the apology issues Chavez did hedge by saying a broader educational effort would improve the idea. But a conservative both in agenda and in the eyes of voters remains so, however, only if he remains firm on his core philosophy.
Although you could argue credibly that the tree issue might have little substantive importance – even as you would have to question the political judgment of somebody who wants to waste taxpayer dollars when there’s little evidence that a particular tree was the instrument of lynching – the other two are important tests of a politician’s conservative credentials. No conservative would wish to grift taxpayers further for public service in a part-time role, and it is oxymoronic to equate conservatism with the idea that a free society with largely uncoerced markets that respects human rights and bends over backwards to ensure equal opportunity is one that enshrines continued “white privilege.”
Yet Chavez has gone on the record with this decidedly anti-conservative messaging. Maybe it’s a strategy to attract voters, but as there is a credible conservative contesting him, by doing so he forfeits support from the conservative portion of the electorate in favor of a reasonable alternative. All Arceneaux and his allies have to do is to make a significant effort to inform voters that Chavez believes “systemic white privilege has continued,” as well as supports pay raises for politicians as the country teeters on recession, and Chavez is finished with a big chunk of that segment who will hit the ballot box come fall.
Ellis was fortunate not to have a credible conservative challenger or not have to cast votes that created openings to drive away conservative support, but neither did he make statements easily interpretable as disavowals of conservativism. Chavez has made that mistake, and it may have ended any chance he has of replicating Ellis’ success.