SADOW: Tarver Entry Shakes Up Shreveport Mayor’s Race

If you’re not a fan, especially if a Democrat, of Democrat Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins and the sometimes-questionable ethical choices he has made in office, the good news is he has picked up a heavyweight challenger from his party to contest his reelection this fall. The bad news is that challenger is the sometimes-ethically questionable Democrat state Sen. Greg Tarver.

In his maiden 2018 election, in the runoff Perkins faced off with an incumbent Democrat twice his age who decades ago shot and killed her spouse in self-defense. Now running as the incumbent, it seems nothing changes, as he might well contend in a runoff against an elected Democrat twice his age who decades ago allegedly was shot by his spouse.

If Perkins gets that far. At the start of the week, Perkins looked to be in pretty good shape to make it that far and onto a second term. He faced only two major competitors, one in the form of Republican former city councilor Tom Arceneaux, but who has been out of office for over three decades and running as a conservative Republican seems unlikely to peel off enough votes from the black Democrat plurality in the electorate to win even if making the runoff.

Especially as the other quality candidate, no party Caddo Parish Commissioner Mario Chavez, has tried to attract Arceneaux’s base and eat into Perkins’ as until recently he had been a Republican and typically cast conservative votes on the Commission but running without a label would make non-Republicans disgruntled with Perkins more likely to defect to his column. However, lately Chavez has started to cast votes more in tune with the political left which probably defeats his crossover strategy.

With Arceneaux’s base too small, even if Chavez lost votes to him while snicking some from Perkins but having to overcome not having the prime voting cue of party label available for voters to choose, Perkins looked fairly certain to make the runoff and against Arceneaux whom he almost certainly would defeat. But with Tarver in the contest, that changes everything.

Tarver has both the clout among Democrats in the electorate, befitting a political career that has seen in him elective office for all but eight of the past 43 years, and just enough crossover appeal to Republicans to win city-wide. Keep in mind that when Tarver won back his Senate seat in 2011, Republicans tacitly backed him because it meant knocking off one of the most strident foes to the reform agenda of GOP former Gov. Bobby Jindal, Democrat former state Sen. Lydia Jackson who had succeeded Tarver.

And Tarver has delivered since, in a fashion. Little known is that Tarver’s voting record makes him one of the least liberal Democrats in the state Senate; in fact, his Louisiana Legislature Log’s voting scorecard from 2016 through 2021 averages in the slightly conservative/reform direction of almost 52. That’s about the best outcome the political right can hope for in a district with a solid black majority mainly of loyal Democrats.

So, it would make sense for Republicans in a tactical sense to back Tarver over Perkins, who quietly but consistently since his election floats his “progressive” credentials that went on full display during his abysmal U.S. Senate attempt two years back, when they can’t see Arceneaux winning with this electorate and are usure whether they can trust Chavez. You know what you get with Tarver, and half a loaf is better than none at all.

Yet the biggest problem with Tarver is, yes, you know what you get, because of his colorful past and associations. Getting shot within minutes of arriving back from a legislative session followed by a divorce shortly thereafter, then a third marriage suggests a bit of chaos in his personal life but paled in comparison to what came in the 1990s.

In that decade, punctuated by the state’s 1993 launch into casino gambling, the federal government began investigating Tarver as part of a probe into the company of his new wife’s involvement in casino contracts. Although nothing came of that, according to the U.S. Attorney at that time it made Democrat former Gov. Prisoner #03128-095 leery of directly involving Tarver in the scheme that led the guy, known outside the walls as Edwin Edwards, to hand cash to Tarver’s colleague at present Democrat state Sen. Cleo Fields allegedly to be passed on to Tarver for facilitation of an exchange of information that could benefit an Edwards connection in obtaining a casino license.

Subsequently put on trial for that, while Edwards was sent to the slammer Tarver was found not guilty. Speculation arose that the prosecution’s mysterious decision not to charge Fields, whereby it could have demonstrated the cash exchange caught on surveillance in part would have gone to Tarver, damaged its case against him. A couple of years later, Tarver declined to run for reelection.

So, if Shreveport conservative and/or Republican voters consider Tarver, they’ll have to reconcile a vote for him with this history, as well as with the more strident rhetoric from his civil rights background and early political career uncomplimentary about conservative whites. Even now, Tarver engages in behavior while legal some may consider inappropriate, such as spending over $1,000 a month in campaign funds to lease a luxury vehicle.

Then again, Perkins himself has an extensive track record of questionable behavior in fewer than four years on the job that gives his opponents plenty of opportunity to publicize that narrative about him. Tarver, in his speech formally announcing his candidacy, took a shot at the most recent one revealed this week: to visit an out-of-town music festival, Perkins took along security and billed city taxpayers for 77 hours of overtime.

And, to make matters really interesting, around this time four years ago Tarver served as a political mentor to Perkins, then a political neophyte. He then very publicly broke with Perkins, essentially calling him shifty and untrustworthy.

But back then he didn’t actively campaign for a mayoral alternative to or against Perkins. Now he is, repeating as he did then that without the right leadership, as he now implies he can bring, Shreveport will “be another Detroit.” If he can overcome skepticism about his checkered past, he has enough factional support among Democrats and enough crossover potential from Republicans to get his shot at providing that for the next four years.

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