It may not hold true everywhere, but in northwest Louisiana’s two most populous parishes for local elections party now matters the most, but it and race as decisive factors in elections can be eclipsed by candidate quality.
Caddo and Bossier Parish school board elections along with Shreveport city council contests provide a wealth of examples confirming this. The 12 Bossier Parish School Board districts featured just two elections, but perhaps these most graphically demonstrated the strength of party identification.
District 11 served up a repeat of last year’s special election, pitting now incumbent Republican Robert Bertrand against independent Miki Royer. Last year, Bertrand took home 73 percent of the 932 cast, when Royer ran as a Democrat. Perhaps drawing a lesson from that, she shed her partisan label this year, but it didn’t help much even as the electorate increase by over 800 she only inched up to 34 percent in a district where almost 40 percent of the electorate registered as Republican.
District 12, an open seat, provided the same lesson a different way. Democrat Zandra Ashley campaigned hard, walking and distributing pushcards and spent 45 minutes on the Bossier Watch narrowcast answering questions and explaining her issue preferences. Her reward was to draw only 22 percent of the vote against Republican Eric Falting in a district with just over half of all registrants for the GOP.
This reality also hit home in Caddo Parish School Board contests. Several incumbents went unopposed and a few contests featured only one major party’s candidates. Only three produced interparty competition, one being District 8 that for several cycles has ended up with the Republican waxing a Democrat – even when previously appointed by the majority-Democrat Board – in a district now 45 percent Republican.
Another was in District 11, where Democrat John Albritton had slid into office in a 2015 special election and then again in 2018 without any opposition. Although part of the Democrats’ majority, as often as not he voted with the minority party Republicans which at certain points meant that coalition at least could stall actions.
But with a district increasingly Republican, in 2022 over 40 percent, he couldn’t stay lucky when Republican nonprofit administrator Jessica Yeates challenged him. She decisively defeated him with 62 percent of the vote in the first time either had contested an election with an opponent.
Yet next door provided an example of where candidate quality could override. In District 10, which has been trending in the opposite direction now with Democrats hovering near an absolute majority as its black population now is just a bit less than the proportion of whites, Republican Katie McLain kept the district in GOP hands with the retirement of Tony Nations to run for Shreveport City Council. A concerned parent with school children, who works as an engineer for the state, heavily backed by Republican elected officials and activists she leveraged activism against the district on Wuhan coronavirus policy and critical race theory-related materials delivered virtually to blanket the district with her campaign and defeating a black Democrat.
Nations for his part finished first in the District E contest with 42 percent contest, 10 points better than appointed incumbent black Democrat Alan Jackson. Whether he can knock off Jackson in a district deliberately gerrymandered by the current 5-2 Democrat majority to create five majority-black districts, or 71 percent of seats, where four, or 57 percent, could be more elegantly drawn according to generally-accepted reapportionment principles in a city with a 57 percent black population, is the big question. Demographics may favor Jackson, but he carries significant baggage and a black Democrat finisher in third place will continue to actively campaign against him.
If Nations pulls it off, that likely would make for two whites representing two majority-black districts and a majority of whites on the Council. In black-majority District B, entrepreneur Gary Brooks, a white Democrat, at 40 percent finished 15 points better than next-place black restaurant operator Democrat Mavice Hughes Thigpen. Brooks succeeded by attracting support from the diminishing white Democrat old guard, who seem to have realized that they can’t win the mayor’s office anymore but at least they can try for a council seat without a large black or Republican electorate.
Thigpen helped make this possible by apparently not even spending $2,500 on campaigning or receiving a contribution in excess of $200, as by state law, since she didn’t file any campaign disclosures. Instead, she seemed to spend her time knocking down her opponents’ yard signs.
Lessons here: demographics largely are destiny even in local contests, but get really good or bad candidates involved and that can change.