And this is what happens in the state with the weakest political parties in the major parish with the weakest political parties.
Republicans look to have lost out on a likely win when first a retired district judge, then the Second Circuit Court of Appeals – minus a few judges – affirmed that white Republican Jason Brown didn’t qualify as a resident of Bossier Parish Police Jury District 9. This leaves the election in the hands of black Democrat Charles Lee Gray, who along with another black Democrat and a white Republican brought the challenge that will kick Brown off the ballot. He does have the option to appeal to the Supreme Court, but a reversal seems unlikely.
Gray challenged longtime incumbent Republican Freddy Shewmake in 2015 but received only 40 percent of the vote when the district had a registration of 53 percent white and 23 percent Republican. This election, the district slipped to a 48 percent white plurality while the GOP proportion held. Shewmake bowed out this year in a district becoming harder to hold by, but certainly not difficult for, a Republican, and Brown would have been favored to win.
Brown, who generated controversy years ago by participating in law enforcement activities outside of his job description while on the job as an assistant district attorney in Caddo Parish and who also lost decisively in a bid this spring to claim his father Henry Brown’s old job on the Second Circuit, stepped into the breach. Now in private practice after a change of leadership at the 1st District office, around the time of his ouster he won one of the five at-large seats to Bossier’s Republican Parish Executive Committee – by default, as only five candidates qualified.
In a parish so conservative, that might seem odd. Just under 45 percent of Bossier’s registrants label themselves Republicans – barely behind St. Tammany, Lafourche, and Lincoln Parishes and well higher than the state’s 31 percent mark. However, the iron law of parties is that they exercise power in proportion to their competitive landscape. Put another way, parties complement each other: as one gets stronger, eventually it pulls (in America) the other major one along; or it stays weak despite electoral success to match the other.
Interest in party governance positions reflects the strength of a party, and here the real weakness in Bossier’s becomes clear. In the 2016 elections for governance of the Louisiana’s major parties – which occur during presidential preference primaries and put the five at-large representatives plus one per police jury district onto the PEC – among Republicans as noted the bare minimum ran at-large and only seven of the 12 districts had any one, in each case a single candidate, sign up. However, that level of activity made the local GOP look positively bustling compared to Bossier Democrats, who had just one at-large qualifier and three lone qualifiers in all of the districts.
The courts have determined Brown does not reside in District 9, because apparently the residential address he gave – his father’s townhome – shows almost no evidence that anybody lives there and he doesn’t have his law practice in the district. The address he used for his judicial candidacy then went unchallenged (perhaps because he was viewed as uncompetitive in that race against another Republican and it was known he might wish to try to succeed Shewmake if that didn’t work out).
Leaders in an organized local party would have spotted the potential trouble and tried to steer him clear of the races, if not find a Republican to run in District 9. But, given that Bossier’s GOP is but a shell of a party, highly dependent upon and controlled by a handful of individuals with almost no one else participating in its activities, when the questionable candidate is one of those few people then something like this goes unaddressed or slips by.
With Republicans dominating parish politics – every parish elected officer is one, its largest city that includes most of the population Bossier City’s mayor and most of its councilors are, and almost every police juror and School Board member are – there’s little incentive to act as party and instead it devolves into factions. A prominent current example is the Senate District 36 contest, with Bossier Republican activists/officeholders split over support for incumbent GOP Sen. Ryan Gatii and Republican challenger Robert Mills, who is backed by several local legislators and Republican statewide and federally-elected officials. A strong political party never would permit such division within it.
But the state party doesn’t exert much muscle – witness a PAC playing a more prominent role in promoting Republican candidacies – and the power flexed by the Bossier GOP is microscopic. That atrophy and its consequences at the local level is why even from the phone-booth-sized Bossier Democrats could emerge a candidate astute enough to heist a police jury seat.