SADOW: Special Elections To Test Bossier City Reform Movement

As opposed to this spring’s regular election, a choice that could move Bossier City forward seems murkier for the city’s southern residents in this fall’s special election. Such a dilemma doesn’t exist for parish residents further north in the city.

Three candidates queued up to fill the vacancy in District 1: Democrat technology administrator Darren Ashley, Republican small businessman Brain Hammons, and independent consultant Michael “Lun” Lombardino. The election became necessary when spring winner Republican Shane Cheatham didn’t take the seat in anticipation of being named city chief administrative officer under Republican new Mayor Tommy Chandler.

Like Chandler, Cheatham had run under a reform banner that questioned city spending priorities and it lack of transparency in decision-making. They criticized then-incumbent Republican Mayor Lo Walker and the City Council, including Cheatham’s incumbent opponent Republican Scott Irwin, for keeping power-wielding among a close-knit group inside and outside of government.

But at the first Council meeting – where newcomer Republican Chris Smith had displaced a member of the city’s deep state but which still had majority on the Council – over the objections of Smith and Republican continuing Councilor Jeff Free the majority reinstalled Irwin to hold the District 1 seat temporarily. The same coalition then wouldn’t bring Cheatham’ nomination to a vote. Assuming Free remains open to Chandler’s agenda, that gives the old guard a 5-2 veto-proof majority at least through the middle of October, which gives it control over budgeting.

Cheatham’s deferral was risky and backfired because his council presence could have ensured backstopping of Chandler’s vetoes. Chandler continues to stump for him as the CAO, but that has no chance of happening at all unless a Chandler ally wins the District 1 gig, much less gaining Chandler leverage to pursue his agenda.

In the spring, Cheatham ran hard against Irwin’s very vulnerable record and defeated him nearly two-to-one. He likely could have won again in the special election, even as some spring supporters might have been turned off by his abandonment of the post once elected; still, his endorsement probably would carry electoral benefits. His opting out opened the field to the trio who have given little initial indication about whether they support his, Chandler’s, and Smith’s agenda promising reorientation.

A little information about the candidates comes from their party affiliations and associations with other politicians. It might confuse voters even more.

As the only Republican in the race in what likely will be a low-information affair, Hammons has a distinct advantage with that cue in a district strongly Republican. Of course, Chandler and the majority of his council opponents share that label, so that doesn’t reveal a lot relative to the dueling factions.

Reviewing his family ties reveals somewhat contradictory political alliances. By marriage he is related to Doug and Wayne Brown, area construction magnates and allies of Walker and the council majority as well as supporters of Democrats Gov. John Bel Edwards and Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell; Hammons spent many years working for that firm before starting his own. But Wayne Brown’s daughter Kristen Brown Rockett, who now runs the firm, donated to Chandler’s campaign while the firm itself donated to Walker (Hammons himself has not made any electronically-filed contributions to any candidates).

Ashley’s Democrat label makes him a distinct underdog. Lombardino might be trying to stand out by running with the independent tag as a sign that he is unaligned with existing factions. Perhaps no better confirmation of that is in the spring he donated both to Chandler’s campaign and to that of Republican District 5 Councilor Vince Maggio, newest member of the Council’s anti-Chandler majority and a Walker ally.

Naturally, the candidates themselves can clear up the issue of whether they share Chandler’s sentiments about a new direction, or whether they have more sympathy for the regnant Walker coalition on the Council that past the election at the very least consists of Maggio, Republican David Montgomery, and Democrat Bubba Williams. Voters need to insist that the candidates answer such a query.

By contrast, Bossier Parish Police Jury District 5 voters have at least one pretty clear-cut distinction between Republicans Julianna Parks, an attorney, and Mindy Wardlaw, a real estate agent. Parks is running to complete her appointed term commencing last month.

Parks, who also serves as a local GOP official, is the wife of Bossier City Judge Santi Parks, and the opaque manner in which the Jury went through the appointment process raised concerns that the fix was in to keep parish political power relatively cloistered. Perhaps unfairly, some voters may see Parks as part of this kind of conspiracy that the Jury could had defused by being more transparent throughout the process.

That image will be tough to dislodge, as with her desire to run for the permanent post voters now reasonably may conclude her appointment that gives her a leg up in the election was all part of a plan. Parks’ party association can help her get out the vote, but Wardlaw can try the exploit the perception of her as just another political insider to capture the same dynamic that put Chandler and Smith into their offices.

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