Disqualification of Democrat Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins from his re-election bid dramatically alters the course of the contest, boosting significantly the hopes of a couple of candidates and damaging those of another pair.
Tuesday, a state district judge ruled that Perkins under oath had provided false information in his qualification documents, that he put down an address of a residence other than his homestead that is required under law, an action which statute says disqualifies him. While he is expected to appeal the decision, a recent similar case in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals where his case would go rules similarly, and it would seem unlikely that the Louisiana Supreme Court would go against that.
In the contest, Perkins faced four major challengers: Republican former Councilor Tom Arceneaux, no party Caddo Parish Commissioner Mario Chavez, Democrat Councilor LeVette Fuller, and Democrat state Sen. Greg Tarver. Elected in 2018 running as a unknown political outsider that allowed Perkins to present himself as a blank slate, this enticed enough people to read into him being an agent of change to defeat the incumbent.
Yet given four years to consolidate that enthusiasm with salient new initiatives and bold programmatic changes, from the start he embarked on a steady stream of miscues that made him look equal parts of an establishment detached and ineffective, if not corrupt. As a result, he made himself vulnerable to challenges even with a majority-black electorate and Democrat registration that would be expected otherwise to support a black Democrat.
Arceneaux represents the traditional conservative Republican base that managed to elect a pair of their own three decades ago. Chavez, who until recently voted reliably conservatively as a commissioner but since declaring his candidacy has started drifting to the left, is attempting a tricky fusionist act, trying to hold onto as many conservatives as possible while enticing as many non-conservatives as he can get by this change in voting behavior, eschewing a partisan label, and emphasis on filling potholes. Fuller made a last-minute entry with few resources, but in the previous nearly four years on the Council had presented herself as an opponent to Perkins’ insider and opaque style of governance while downplaying her leftist policy preferences. Tarver has the backing of black Democrats disgruntled with Perkins, tactical Republicans who see him ideologically as the least worst Democrat in the field, and the remnants of an old-style political machine, which has opposed Perkins, that has allowed him to influence area politics for approaching a half-century.
The Perkins exit affects least Arceneaux, in that the Republican had essentially no chance of winning with a base too small, even though he had a good chance of making the runoff given the size and loyalty of his base. But with little opportunity to expand beyond that in this electoral environment, he almost certainly would lose to any opponent and only could pin his hopes on drawing Perkins or Tarver and then play the corruption card to the hilt.
Because while Perkins did a number of questionable things in office, Tarver has his own checkered past. Even as some Republicans would bite the bullet and support him, others never would because of Tarver’s association with Democrat former Gov. Prisoner # 03128-095, known outside the walls as Edwin Edwards, who avoided prison himself over the same incident that landed Edwards in the slammer. Arceneaux’s hope against hope now is to make the runoff against Tarver where enough non-Republicans remember Tarver’s controversial past or have crossed swords with his political organization to vote for a Republican instead.
Yet without Perkins, Arceneaux’s chances of making the runoff have become reduced. Four other significant candidates fighting over the same chunk of voters that now has become three while his portion remains essentially static means his share compared to others falls, increasing the chances that any two of them can ace him out.
However, Tarver’s chances potentially also take a hit. Among most black Democrats, he was considered the Perkins foil, given his strident opposition to the mayor beginning four years ago. Perkins backers would be loath to join forces with Tarver, and Democrats in the electorate no longer at first glance will evaluate Tarver as the anti-Perkins, but now will become open to other appeals including making Tarver and his controversial past a major issue.
Whether that happens depends upon the remaining candidates and especially Fuller, who stands to gain the most with the booting of Perkins. She filed to run it seemed almost as an afterthought, who through 2021 had almost no resources to run for reelection, much less the multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to win the mayoralty, after only recently declaring she would forgo reelection, citing dissatisfaction with that job and politics.
The next week or so, or the time span in which it will take the judiciary to finally put Perkins out to pasture, is crucial for her. It’s not oversimplified to have thought of the election as a four-lane road, with lanes somewhat overlapping: at the furthest left was Perkins, overlapped to his right by Tarver, overlapped to his right by Chavez, and overlapping in the right-most lane was Arceneaux. Well behind the others, Fuller had no place to pass on the left, where the likeliest outcome would be a runoff between someone from the two leftmost lanes and someone from the two rightmost lanes.
But with Perkins gone, suddenly his lane is wide open. While Fuller was an irritant to Perkins loyalists, where else in this election are they going to go? And in her liberal voters have a candidate without the ethical baggage of Perkins of Tarver, except for her drunk driving conviction while in office.
So, she can slide right into that lane, but only if she moves quickly (if she already didn’t start last weekend) to convince primarily Perkins backers but also anybody else not absolutely committed to another candidate that she has the platform and seriousness to be competitive. Because she is quite far behind that doesn’t mean it will make her into a heavyweight along with the other three, but she certainly has the chance, and now must raise money and get a large-scale campaign going almost immediately.
If not, the Perkins vote disperses elsewhere, with Chavez becoming the main beneficiary. Those unwilling to vote Republican yet who are uneasy with Tarver without sensing a less-controversial Perkins-like clone in ideology in the field will give Chavez a second look. Regardless of what Fuller does, expect Chavez to play up even more non-ideological issues and to move selectively more towards the center on issues when policy preferences do arise, which will turn off some conservatives but may pick up more non-conservatives who don’t perceive available for selection a viable candidate not named Tarver.
In the final analysis given current objective conditions, the removal of Perkins increases the chances of a Tarver vs. Arceneaux/Chavez finale (as he gains more Perkins voters than loses others) and the chances that Tarver makes the runoff in the first place, where he would win in this matchup. However, if Fuller could light a fire quickly behind her candidacy, that could decrease Tarver’s chances and even put her in the driver’s seat. Whether that turnaround is possible is another matter.