Democrat state Rep. Barbara Norton discovered it’s never a good idea to be unprepared when sticking your head into the lion’s mouth.
The term-limited Norton over her three terms developed a reputation as not one of the sharpest tools in the shed, repeatedly making gaffes and not helped by her eccentric use of the English language. But having lost multiple attempts for office before winning this one, she did learn how to campaign at the grassroots level.
Thus, she had a realistic chance at knocking off Democrat state Sen. Greg Tarver when hoped to extend her legislative career by qualifying against him earlier this month. Himself a masterful campaigner after seeing it all over a four-decade career in elective office – although with an eight-year break after he beat a similar rap that took down former Democrat Gov. Edwin Edwards – that time in Shreveport politics also has brought him a number of enemies, including very ideological liberals annoyed that he sometimes aligns with conservatives on fiscal issues.
Defeating Tarver should have gone like this: with Norton joined by former city judge candidate and Democrat Mayor Adrian Perkins ally Shante Wells (Tarver pointedly criticized Perkins, who once dated Tarver’s daughter, in the 2018 election and later donated to his runoff opponent former Mayor Ollie Tyler’s campaign) and past candidate Republican Jim Slagle, Wells or Norton, hoping Slagle would keep enough Republican votes (about a sixth of registrants in District 39) out of Tarver’s column, could both eat enough into Tarver’s base to keep him from the runoff. At worst, at least one could get in the runoff with him, coalesce the vote against him, and win.
There’s no guarantee that they could have figured out how to do that, but Tarver made sure of that. His campaign chairman, seasoned lawyer Ron Miciotto, dug up enough evidence to launch a residency challenge against each – both Norton and Wells months ago made their intentions known – and quickly got Wells to withdraw and a judge to disqualify Norton (who plans to appeal, albeit hopelessly it would seem given the mountain of evidence against her).
Wells, as it was, more convincingly lives in District 37, a safe Republican district represented by state Sen. Barrow Peacock whose job wouldn’t be threatened with the addition of Wells to Peacock’s far-left opponent. Norton more convincingly lives in District 38, where her entrance into that race would have reduced the chances of Democrat state Sen. John Milkovich (who habitually has donated to Norton’s campaign, even before his election in 2015) to hold onto that Republican-leaning seat against a spirited challenge from Republican Barry Milligan and Katrina Early, a Democrat insurance agent vexed with Milkovich voting against measures that almost assuredly would have lowered rates.
(Tarver himself has a residence outside the district. But as he doesn’t claim a homestead exemption there, conducts business from his business address in the district, votes from there, and even sleeps there on occasion, he slips in under the qualification that his business address is his “domicile.”)
The results from all this in-fighting should bring a smile to conservatives. Tarver is no prize for them, having just a 32 score for the term on the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry legislative voting scorecard, a 60 for 2019 on the Louisiana Family Forum’s version, and just above 50 for the term on the Louisiana Legislature Log’s version (100 the maximum, generally more conservative, score for all). But he’s positively anti-Antifa compared to Norton’s record, who over the same periods drew a 27 from LABI, a goose-egg from LFF, and just under 30 on the Log’s.
So, after Tarver’s machinations leave just Slagle left in the race, conservatives get the least liberal realistic outcome in that district, while assured that one of the most liberal votes in the entire Legislature ungracefully into retirement. And Tarver maintains his position as perhaps Caddo Parish’s preeminent power broker.