The Shreveport mayor’s election this fall edged closer to – or maybe farther from – a Friday Ellis strategy last week when former candidate Republican Caddo Parish Commissioner Jim Taliaferro announced he would drop his bid for the office, in favor of another.
The strategy comes from the 2020 Monroe mayor’s contest, when no party Friday Ellis, backed by Republicans, took down long-time incumbent Democrat Jamie Mayo in a city with five-eighths black voter registration. Mayo had built up two decades of questionable decision-making which accelerated in his final term, but with Ellis not running as a Republican this removed a distraction from some voters who wouldn’t consider a Republican merely because of the label and who wanted Mayo out.
Somewhat of a similar situation presents itself with Shreveport’s Democrat Mayor Adrian Perkins. While only in his first term, Perkins has made a number of questionable calls that has brought about charges of favoritism and power politics at the expense of taxpayers. This has opened the possibility that a substantial number of voters will gravitate to a quality anybody-but-Perkins alternative.
And they may have one in no party Caddo Parish Commissioner Mario Chavez. Until recently a reliable Republican who held local party office, Chavez announced his pursuit of the mayor’s office officially without that or any party label. To make it work, Chavez would have to maneuver himself into a matchup with Perkins.
However, this would become far less likely if another quality Republican were in the race, as many GOP partisans, especially among those less interested in politics but feeling compelled to vote, would vote reflexively for a known Republican candidate, such as Taliaferro, who had entered the race a year earlier. Party identification and his name recognition, since Taliaferro had run against Perkins in 2018 and finished not far out of a runoff spot, if they were the only two quality alternatives to Perkins, likely would have helped Taliaferro slip past Chavez into a runoff regardless of how well Chavez campaigned.
But they aren’t the only two. Taliaferro may have missed a runoff back then because another quality GOP candidate, Lee Savage, had captured 14 percent of the vote, about two-thirds of Taliaferro’s total. Assuming it all had gone to Savage, he would have led Perkins into the runoff. Still, he unlikely could have won against the 2018 version of Perkins, then a novice candidate with little-known background creating a blank slate that enticed Democrats and even some Republicans.
However, the 2022 full information version of Perkins presents a much more vulnerable target, and in taking him down Taliaferro noted, in a change-of-venue announcement, that 2018 vote splitting wouldn’t work as an approach in 2022, thus he would desist. Instead, he revealed he would shift his campaign towards winning the Shreveport City Council District C race in which incumbent John Nickelson wouldn’t try for reelection.
Taliaferro didn’t mention Chavez by name, and there is another announced Republican in the race, Republican former (three decades ago) City Councilor Tom Arceneaux. His bid clings to a long-eroded past model of power in the city held by local influential, wealthy, and almost all white individuals, failing to acknowledge that the local business community largely has become captive to interests outside the area, if not the state, and majoritarian politics now is run by black elites.
This hasn’t stopped a number of Republican elites, whose candidates consistently have lost mayoral contests for nearly 25 years and who haven’t won enough to produce a City Council majority in that time span, from contributing to Arceneaux’s campaign that will make him a factor. In fact, Arceneaux had outdrawn Taliaferro five to one for 2021, so for the latter there may be less taking one for the team than there is recognition of reality.
But the fact is, Arceneaux unlikely can defeat even a damaged Perkins in a runoff. Too many black voters simply won’t consider a Republican regardless of their perception of Perkins, much less up against an old white guy, in a city with 54 percent black voter registration and enough white liberals that would rather go without baby formula and endure high price inflation than vote Republican.
By contrast, Chavez has a shot with his Hispanic background, relative youth (Arceneaux is almost twice his age), and cross-partisan appeal by running without label (his website also claims he has raised more money as of this writing than Arceneaux did in 2021). Yet in a three-up race (there are a couple of other minor candidates unlikely to peel more than a trivial amount of votes from Perkins), because of the label Arceneaux probably would make a runoff over Chavez.
In a sense, Taliaferro’s exit might have done more harm than good to Chavez, since his presence might have split up the GOP vote enough to put Chavez into a certain runoff. And the strategy become far less viable if a quality Democrat enters the race as a Perkins alternative, but as yet none appear willing to do so.
Regardless, Perkins winning reelection is a near-lock in a runoff against Arceneaux, but much less certain against Chavez. Republicans will have to decide whether to stay loyal to their label and almost certainly lose – no GOP candidate has received even three-eighths of the vote in any mayoral contest since 2006 – or take a chance on one of their own putting aside that label that brings brighter prospects for stopping Perkins and keeping the office out of the hands of Democrats.