Collectively, according to recent campaign finance reports perhaps the most competitive Louisiana Senate races are happening in northwest Louisiana, although clarity has begun to emerge in the contests mainly in Caddo Parish.
Those are the three-candidate Senate District 38 and 39 contests. Less certain in outcome are the paired matchups in sprawling Senate District 31, which has a plurality of its voters in Caddo and Bossier Parishes, and District 36, with mainly a Bossier constituency.
The reports filed last week importantly for most of these candidacies reveal for the first time campaign donations and expenditures. These give an idea of the relevant potency of a candidacy and the kinds of supporters it draws, if any.
After qualifying, perhaps the most competitive of the Caddo contests was thought to be SD 39 of the term-limited Democrat state Sen. Greg Tarver, with Democrat former Shreveport mayor and two-tern state Rep. Cedric Glover, Democrat caucus leader state Rep. Sam Jenkins, and Democrat former state Rep. Barbara Norton all have a go at it. The open seat appears so valuable that Jenkins and Glover gave up what would appear to have been easy reelections, where four years from now term limits would have matched one or both up likely against an incumbent.
However, finance data tell a more lopsided story. Glover might have had the edge given an almost-uninterrupted quarter-century he has spent in elective office. Yet he also sometimes has acted as a nonconformist among Democrats, most recently by crossing party lines and traditional black political organizations to support white Republican Shreveport Mayor Tom Arceneaux in his successful bid.
This contest appears to embody attempted payback. Glover raised only a few thousand dollars to add little to an almost emptied campaign kitty, mainly from corporate and political action committee sources although this is 2022 data as he apparently failed to file the report 30 days from an election on time. Norton, who in her dozen years in office didn’t exactly distinguish herself has done somewhat better but has spent little more on campaigning. Rather, most money, over six figures, has poured into Jenkins’ campaign, capturing most of the traditional Democrat dollars – party organizations, activists, and elected officials; labor; and trial lawyers; plus lots of PAC bucks and a few GOP donors, and Jenkins has spent far more than his opposition combined on campaigning. (Not surprisingly, Tarver, who Glover didn’t endorse for mayor, endorsed Jenkins.) This grants him the edge going forward.
SD 38, by contrast, has seen finances headed in a more predictable direction. Republican state Rep. Thomas Pressly brought home six figures from traditional GOP allies and PACs. The other traditional Republican in the race, Chase Jennings, in the less than a month of running picked up only a fraction of Pressly’s total and disproportionately it seemed came from officials and congregants of Shreveport Community Church.
Former Democrat senator from the district, now running as a Republican John Milkovich, brought in about $75,000 although about half was his own resources. The social conservative but big government spender acts as the stealth Democrat in the race but didn’t receive much from traditional Democrat sources as he crossed up the party on social issues during his term. Instead, his donor base reflected an eclectic mix although heavier on the trial lawyer side. These numbers confirm Pressly as the favorite, although he might be pushed to a runoff by Milkovich.
Across the river, the heads-up matchups between Republicans don’t have clear favorites. SD 31 presents a classic Bossier political establishment vs. staunch conservative battle between Mike McConathy and state Rep. Alan Seabaugh. Following the age-old script, both are social conservatives, although the former has backing from the diminishing white Democrat base and get-along-go-along Republicans, both of whom favor bigger government, and has raised this year approaching $200,000, while the latter has traditional Republican economic conservatives in his corner and raised a little less but has much more in campaign coffers.
Interesting also are the outside groups stumping for each. The state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a national group emphasizing limited government and conservative economics, has endorsed and spent for Seabaugh. Meanwhile, a dark money group from Baton Rouge, Republican Patriots Protecting Property Rights run by maverick Republican Scott Wilfong who often crosses swords with the more conservative state GOP leadership, has dropped some change on behalf of McConathy.
The reports confirm the closeness and dynamics of the race. McConathy, who in the past has supported white Democrats from Bossier Parish’s former state Rep. Billy Montgomery (who late in his career switched to the GOP) up to Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, having coached basketball at the collegiate level in two places in the district and is the son of a former Bossier Parish school superintendent, is popular but Seabaugh has demonstrated campaign prowess time and time again and his consistent conservatism shown in 13 years at the Legislature has won him many fans in a heavily-conservative area.
The SD 36 contest in Bossier and Webster Parishes is the most convoluted of all. Incumbent GOP state Sen. Robert Mills has an almost unimpeachable conservative record. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which distributes a legislative scorecard geared to measuring economic conservatism, rated him at 98 percent over his term, missing on only one vote and that because he was absent. (Seabaugh, for his part, also scored 98 percent over the term.)
His filing demonstrates this, with donations coming from a number of businesses and business PACs, as well as a number of traditional GOP donors. He topped $200,000 and has almost as much in reserve.
But his challenger, Republican Bossier Parish School Board member Adam Bass, is trying to argue Mills hasn’t been enough of an economic conservative. Some were upset that Mills, along with the rest of the Senate unanimously, this year voted to allow for more spending on capital projects rather than paying down pension liabilities and topping off the state’s main savings account and in a way that might have triggered tax cuts.
Bass tried to drive this point home in a recent candidate forum on the Bossier Watch podcast/narrowcast, pointing to a Mills vote on an amendment to a bill hijacked from taxing marijuana to redistributing revenues from the general fund to capital outlay. In the process, the amendment would have undone the 2025 expiration of the 0.45 percent sales tax increase first in 2016 then renewed in 2018 (where, in the renewal process, Seabaugh successfully maneuvered to prevent a higher level that has ended up saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars).
Several GOP senators joined Mills in voting for that, which Bass argued constituted voting for a tax increase. But Mills and all others later voted to strip that amendment and when the bill passed it was revenue neutral, and concerning his record generally on taxes and spending the LABI scorecard speaks for itself.
Bass raised almost $50,000 fewer for a campaign that got a later start. His filing reflects donors less business-oriented and more Bossier-centric, including solid support from the Bossier political establishment, who never has warmed that much to Mills, an outsider to it, while Bass is firmly a member of it.
It all may come down to Webster Parish. The Bossier City part of the district is new to Mills, but if he can keep it close there his Webster precincts where he likely will do much better than Bass should put him over the top.