When looking at the sum total of local elections in Caddo Parish this year, throwing out bums, or at least not letting them into office, erupted as the overall theme among voters.
Not entirely accidentally the highest profile contest, Shreveport mayor, saw the two quality candidates least connected to previous electoral office advance to the runoff. Rank amateur Victoria Provenza dispatched a sitting city councilman and state representative, while winner Ollie Tyler only had executive experience as a political appointee to run the parish’s largest government (by operating budget the Caddo Parish School District) but her first election try which brought victory now puts her in charge of the entity in the parish with the second largest budget.
Tyler defeated Provenza, a white no-party candidate, because she was a black Democrat in a city where 41.7 percent of registered voters are black Democrats. More interesting is that the other two major officeholders who didn’t make the runoff also were black Democrats. These electorally experienced candidates got rejected. While Tyler was perceived by many to be the choice of outgoing Mayor Cedric Glover, she does represent something of a break with a mayor under whose leadership Shreveport seemed to stagnate.
And the pattern held as starkly down the line. Only one of the two incumbent city council candidates that faced an opponent won, and another past councilman also met defeat, at the hands of a current Caddo Parish commissioner. While incumbent District B CouncilmanJeff Everson as a white Democrat running held on against black Democrat Councilman-elect Lynn Cawthorne in a district padding its black majority of registered voters, perhaps only suspicions about Cawthrorne, who once served as a delegate to the 2004 national Republican convention, provided the winning margin. But black Democrat Councilwoman Rose Wilson-McCulloch, perhaps Glover’s staunchest ally on the Council, got beaten by Glover foe black Democrat Councilman-elect Willie Bradford.
The trend magnified for Caddo Parish School Board. Four of six incumbents ended up getting tossed, almost all of them losing to a candidate from the same party and same color; only two who faced any competition survived. Concerning the only other significant contest on the ballot, incumbent black Democrat Shreveport City Marshal Charlie Caldwell also achieved reelection but in a contest that like that of mayor that favors black Democrats and is the office with the most patronage resources to bear to encourage reelection support.
These results reveal significant citizen dissatisfaction with the existing orders. Tyler the new mayor will be joined by a majority of new councilors, with all three of the black Democrats new to the job like her. Almost half of the new School Board will be rookies. Such dramatic turnover only can indicate displeasure at the direction in which these jurisdictions were headed.
Term limits may have created more opportunities for citizens to vent against a city that continues to find itself way behind in infrastructure needs that, for its enterprise activities, has had to resort to dramatic fee increases to keep out of court, with a hardly-growing local economy unable to tamp these down. But no such excuse works in the case of the School Board, where citizens finally may have tired of governance that seemed unable to balance budgets without depleting reserves and cutting dramatically, as student headcounts continued to fall, and its instigating a lengthy circus-like atmosphere in trying to hire a permanent superintendent.
This the lesson should be clear to both new and returning members alike in both cases: get fiscal houses in order. Otherwise, the few incumbents that did survive, almost every one not getting a challenge, will find themselves challenged next time, and the incoming officials will find out what it’s like to serve a single term.