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Dueling endorsements maintain Tarver advantage

Democrat state Sen. Greg Tarver, in a runoff for Shreveport mayor, should hope that his latest association with a politician named Edwards works out better than it did a quarter of a century ago.

Tuesday, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards appeared at a news conference to endorse Tarver for the city’s top job, with the election coming on Dec. 10. Tarver pretty consistently has backed Edwards’ agenda, perhaps most controversially when he voted to uphold a veto Edwards cast against a bill that would have promoted competition fairness in women’s sports by not allowing biological males to compete in those, but which the year later passed into law with Tarver’s support and Edwards’ refusal to sign.

Tarver’s last experience with Prisoner #03128-095, formerly known as Democrat Gov. Edwin Edwards, for him turned out less satisfactorily. That Edwards earned his new moniker at the same trial that exonerated Tarver on similar corruption charges, after which Tarver didn’t run for reelection, sitting out for eight years before regaining office in 2011.

The Edwards appearance came as a result of a previous announcement by Tarver’s opponent Republican former city councilor Tom Arceneaux of holding his own news conference, where prior to Tarver’s he paraded out the past three mayors of Shreveport, black Democrats state Rep. Cedric Glover, Ollie Tyler, and Mayor Adrian Perkins, to endorse him. The one preceding all three, white Democrat Keith Hightower, unsurprisingly popped up at Tarver’s as not only has he donated within the past four years to the state campaigns of both Tarver and Edwards but also he has given $4,500 to Tarver’s mayoral campaign.

The Arceneaux lineup illustrates the role of Tarver within the Shreveport political ecosystem as well as limitations to that strategy. As the first black official elected to public office in the parish in 1978, since then black politics in the area has revolved around his presence. Roughly, there are his allies and his enemies (or at least non-allies), with the majority of black elected officials falling in the latter category in a loose constellation emanating from association with Tarver’s chief political rival in years gone by, another black political pioneer in the area Democrat former state Rep. Alphonse Jackson, although this grouping tends to be the newer entrants to politics.

As has become well-known, four years ago Tarver had begun mentoring Perkins into Shreveport politics only to have the relationship go sour, leading to Tarver’s defeat of Perkins this election. Glover and Tarver have spared over a number of issues with Tarver backing a rival of Glover’s during the latter’s reelection run. Although Tyler never really butted heads with Tarver, indicative of her rather inconsequential term, Tarver clearly didn’t see her as an ally by his ill-fated initial backing of Perkins and subsequent declination to involve himself energetically in the runoff.

Being as the runoff demographics favor Tarver that depend upon turning out the majority base, black Democrats, what played out that morning was first the Arceneaux effort by presenting prominent black Democrats to detach voters in that base from Tarver, at least to have them stay home if not activated enough to vote for Arceneaux (keep in mind that as a December runoff, turnout will be lower and disproportionately more attentive voters who likely already have made up their minds), and the Tarver effort intended to negate that. As such, the two conferences took on drastically different tones.

Arceneaux’s speakers talked in terms of cross-racial and bipartisan appeals, calling him the better candidate on the issues for a better future for Shreveport. At the Tarver event, Edwards spoke generally about Tarver’s contributions as he saw these, and Democrat state Rep. Sam Jenkins implored for turnout, calling that the key that elected Edwards – popular among area blacks, not so much among area whites – two times that permitted black progress. The only nod at any cross-racial, bipartisan appeal was vague mentions by Tarver of unity in Baton Rouge and recognizing Hightower and GOP state Sen. Barrow Peacock in the audience.

In sum, the dueling endorsements probably did little to move the needle. Arceneaux wanted to raise doubts among the base crucial to the election, and Tarver likely quelled that to a great degree. That leaves the advantage still with Tarver, even as Arceneaux clearly has done better than any Republican in years and looks set for producing the best GOP performance since 2006.

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