While the judicial cycle has come around to tag onto this time the presidential contest, state and local races in Caddo Parish have a bit of intrigue that will reveal the power of partisan perceptions.
Every six years all state district court and some appellate court jobs come open. Additionally, local justice of the peace, constable, and many municipal judgeships also are contested. Thus, every other time they compete with the presidential race, in contrast to only House contests (and Senate races two out of every three times).
Regardless, Bossier Parish and Bossier City, the land of the super-apathetic citizenry, displayed its typical slate of nearly-universal uncontested, Republican-incumbent contests. None of the six 26th District (the district also incorporates Webster Parish) divisions had anything but a GOP incumbent running, nor did Republican District Attorney Schuyler Marvin pick up an opponent.
Also getting a free ride back in is Republican Second Circuit Appellate Judge Jeff Thompson. As is typical in Louisiana, where incumbents on the bench rarely draw challengers, the only contested race came in the open Bossier City Court spot, where Republican Cynthia Carroll-Bridges looks to end her perennial candidacy for some spot on the bench against the GOP’s Santi Parks, an ally of outgoing Republican City Judge Tommy Wilson.
Her equivalent on the Caddo side seems to be no party Trina Chu, who aimed higher than ever this time with her challenge to longtime no party Second Circuit Appellate Judge Jeannette Garrett. The district, which takes up much of Caddo and all of De Soto and Red River Parishes, has continued to trend more Republican, who now in terms of registrants number almost as many as Democrats, with white registrants having a two-to-one advantage over blacks.
By pivoting from her Democrat label she ran under for district judgeships, Garrett has been able to ride to victory in her appellate court career the wave of white abandonment of Democrats in favor of Republican registrations and candidates yet not have to call herself a Republican. As judicial contests typically feature few ideologically polarizing issues and candidates by law technically can’t conduct campaigns, voters lean even more heavily on partisanship as a cue. But with the no-party space already occupied by the familiar Garrett, it’s highly unlikely that Chu – who in the past couple of years has run into controversy as part of the events that led to former Appellate Court Judge Henry Brown’s sudden retirement in the shadow of a state investigation but prior to that ran as a Democrat – can take advantage of the same dynamic.
Two retirements opened up two district court spots, which led to two progeny of past high-profile area elected officials staking their claims. One, Republican Don Hathaway, Jr. whose father served decades first as the head of law enforcement in Shreveport then in Caddo Parish, captured one without a fight. The other, Republican Chris Victory whose father Jeff Victory served on the state Supreme Court, will face a pair of Democrats in veteran attorneys Edwin Byrd and Mary Winchell.
Victory likely drew such opposition because of his professional affiliation with Republican state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, whom local liberals including those in the legal community consider the Great Satan, and his association with conservative legal causes. But the district demographics proportionally mirror those of Garrett/Chu race, so he comes in as the favorite.
Veteran Democrat Judge Ramona Emmanuel picked up Democrat challenger J. Antonio Florence, who in the past has questioned the fariness of the judicial system. Veteran Republican Craig Marcotte, who recently ruled unconstitutional Democrat Shreveport Mayor (and now Senate candidate) Adrian Perkins’ overbroad face covering order, drew Democrat Jacob Oakley as an opponent, possibly in part because of that ruling.
Meanwhile, after Republican Shreveport City Judge Lee Irvin resigned amid scandal, three Republicans have jumped in to replace him. And Democrat District Attorney James Stewart picked up a long shot challenger, Democrat Pat Gilley.
The one real chance for genuine partisan change will come in the contested Caddo Juvenile Court contest to succeed retiring Democrat Paul Young. Both having extensive experience in the area of juvenile justice and running for the past year, Republican Natalie Howell will face off against Independent Clay Walker. This district has demographics like the Garrett/Chu and Victory races that will favor a Republican, so Walker will act as the stealth Democrat. This race, more than the others, will test whether Young continued to win in the district because of his incumbency in spite of his party identification.
Finally, outside judicial contests the special election for District 8 School Board should provide an example of righting a partisan wrong and give yet more data on whether the tactic of shadow Democrats running as Independents or without party labels works in districts with unfavorable demographics to them. Appointed earlier this year in the heavily-Republican district to replace the resigning representative, Independent (but former registered Democrat) Jeri Bowen faces a challenge from the runner-up in the appointment process, Republican Christine Tharpe.