SADOW: Louisiana Local Races Provide Both Despair, Hope

The meaningful Louisiana municipal elections this past weekend point both to some reasons for both despair and hope.

No one can view the outcome of New Orleans elections with any degree of optimism, but that was foreordained when candidate qualifying ended. As city government increasingly becomes an exercise in satisfying leftist elite preferences while defaulting on basic services like picking up trash, the question was how pessimistic case for city revitalization would become as a result of the elections.

As it was, unfortunately more. Reelection of Democrat Mayor LaToya Cantrell highlighted the basic self-governance dysfunctionality etched into the electorate’s psyche, with her drawing only token opposition and a few challengers not otherwise policy clones who largely avoided criticizing most of Cantrell’s social progressivism and government activism except on pandemic restrictions. That guaranteed wretched executive governance for the next four years, but the initial outcomes of councilor elections just made matters worse.

All of the incumbents ran – some for different seats – with few degrees of separation from Cantrell’s agenda. The bad news is the ones closest to Cantrell on that account found the most success, and the only ones facing trouble in a runoff were outflanked on the left.

Democrats all, liberal Kristin Giselson Palmer went down to defeat to one of the most leftist members of the Louisiana Legislature during his time there, JP Morrell, for an at-large seat. As far to the left as he is, incumbent Jay Banks got forced into a runoff by even more lefty lawyer Lesli Harris. Perhaps most indicative of the electorate’s descent into madness, incumbent Cyndi Nguyen found herself trailing into a runoff against Oliver Thomas, whose last stint on the Council ended when he resigned in disgrace for corruption while on the job and pled guilty to bribery charges.

The sheriff’s race also took a sour turn (two other parish-level contests involved the mostly harmless clerk of court and assessor jobs) when the city/parish’s most reasonable remaining elected official after Democrat former District Attorney Leon Cannizaro called it quits last year to allow Democrat self-styled “progressive” DA wacky Jason Williams to win election, Democrat Marlin Gusman got pushed into a runoff by severely woke former city police monitor Democrat Susan Hutson. She essentially wants to bring the same degradation Williams foisted on prosecution to prisoner supervision in the parish.

By contrast to the misery Orleanians inflicted upon themselves, a ray of hope shone in Bossier City for the special election for District 1 of its city council. That contest pitted Democrat Darren Ashley, Republican Brian Hammons, and no party Mike Lombardino among themselves

It occurred against a backdrop of the struggle between old Bossier political elites and reformers challenging the big government orthodoxy of the former that has left the city overleveraged and overtaxed. Reformist Republican Tommy Chandler won the mayor’s contest earlier this year, while GOP Councilor Chris Smith also dumped a longtime member of the establishment clique.

Reformers could have had two of the seven Council chairs had not another winner from the spring, Republican Shane Cheatham, ill-advisedly resigned his seat before even taking it in the hopes a Council still controlled by the old guard would ratify his nomination by Chandler to become city chief administrative officer. That resignation – which came to naught when the Council wouldn’t even second Smith’s motion to approve Cheatham’s nomination – made this contest necessary.

Ashley did next to no campaigning, but the others strenuously enveloped that space. Their vague campaign promises didn’t vary by much, with their main differences coming in the endorsements they touted. Hammons clearly ran as an extension of reformers, hauling in backing from Chandler, Smith, and Cheatham, among others. Lombardino stood in as a proxy for the establishment, with his headline name coming from an insider aligned with the interests behind the present Council majority, former city CAO, police chief, and marshal Lynn Austin.

Running solely on name recognition, Ashley grabbed about a quarter of the vote. Despite that, Hammons nearly pulled off the win, falling just 34 votes short with turnout impressive for a special election in Bossier City. It actually drew over 750 more votes cast than in the 2017 regular election, although about that many fewer than did the regular election this past spring.

Lombardino’s strategy in eschewing a party label depended upon his making the runoff, in that Democrats in a low-interest election would feel more affinity with for than with the Republican Hammons. His problem is the matter will be the only item on the ballot, presenting little incentive for Democrats to turn out without any candidate of their own.

Thus, the runoff will hinge upon each campaign’s ability to return its voters to the polls. Not many of Ashley’s will, and of the few who do likely enough will vote for Hammons to put him over the top, as long as he continues his brisk campaigning. What might guarantee Hammons the win would be publicizing his backing of term limits, which he has downplayed compared to Lombardino’s vigorous supporting statements. That issue resonates well in the part of the city whose government many there see as too profligate with the people’s money, with graybeard city councilors serving more terms than fingers on a hand seen as the culprits.

The election is crucial for reform. Two councilors backing a more transparent city government means Chandler need only pick off one other – with Republican Jeff Free, the only councilor either not having spent either a few weeks or at least a third of his life on the Council being the most approachable – to sustain vetoes, strengthening his bargaining position. Reformers will have to hope Hammons can close the deal.

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