We political scientists found ourselves another teaching tool courtesy of northwest Louisiana election results this past weekend that, despite this being the runoff balloting, still haven’t been decided for one contest.
Caddo and Bossier Parishes mostly had these for state and local elections settled last month, if not a couple of months earlier during qualification, Still, a half-dozen relevant contests remained to be decided. Almost all of them were.
The one race confined to Bossier saw Democrat Julius Daby, for many years a fixture on the parish School Board, edge out political neophyte Democrat Mary Giles to succeed his brother on the Police Jury. Only 415 people voted, under 10 percent of the district electorate, a proportion only somewhat lower than the 17 percent parish-wide who participated. Clearly without compelling top-level races at either the state or parish levels Bossier turnout suffered, and the District 10 runoff drew even fewer because parish governance seems less important to residents in an urban district within Bossier City.
Yet this outcome proved interesting, for when any of the Darby clan run for office – four have been elected to posts on the Bossier City Council, Police Jury, and School Board starting 40 years ago – not only have they won, but also almost always without a runoff, much less battling to a close finish. This outcome might signal the beginning of the end of the Darby dynasty – almost no black elected officials in Bossier City, the parish, or school district in history has been anything but a Darby – that has dominated black electoral politics in the parish.
Bossier also had a slice of the Senate District 39 race, which proved almost anti-climactic. Despite his almost three decades in elective office, including a stint as mayor of Shreveport, the mostly-Caddo district saw the end of Democrat state Rep. Cedric Glover’s career, going out with a whimper. Perhaps not surprisingly Democrat state Rep. Sam Jenkins triumphed as during the campaign, and especially in the runoff that Jenkins led into but into which Glover barely squeaked by a Republican, it had become clear that party activists were coalescing into Jenkins’ corner. More unexpected was the thumping of nearly 2:1 that Jenkins delivered.
In retrospect, Glover perhaps should have stayed put, as he could have served another term before limits kicked in. Instead, his seat now will be held by Democrat Joy Walters, who in a close three-way contest in the general election first knocked out a Caddo Parish commissioner, then in the runoff narrowly bested a Caddo Paish School Board member. This victory was significant in that Walters relied less on a traditional strategy of shoe leather and making the endorsement rounds while utilizing more aggressively social and electronic media strategies.
There was no predicted or actual closeness to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education District 4 race. Republican Stacey Melerine, aided by the campaigning nexus of GOP state Rep. (soon to take a state Senate seat) Alan Seabaugh, handily defeated her Democrat opponent.
The two topline Caddo races were a different story. Despite leading into the runoff with 46 percent of the vote and the expectation that enough of the 19 percent of the third place-finishing white Democrat would push him to victory in the runoff, Republican former Assessor employee Brett Frazier, who is white, finished 233 votes behind Democrat college professor Regina Webb, who is black, out of over 40,000 cast and turnout 10 points higher than in Bossier. Remarkably, she spent through the general election plus a couple of weeks only a few thousand dollars with little in the way of advertising other than push cards and yard signs, devoting most effort to canvassing and phone banks, while Frazier spent much more.
Voter demographics in the parish, that revealed whites with a bare plurality over blacks, but with a history that whites were twice as likely to cross over to voter for a black candidate over a white than blacks were to vote for a white candidate against a black may have helped her pull it out. Yet what probably helped her more was the high-profile sheriff’s race between white Republican lawyer John Nickelson and black Democrat former Shreveport police chief and chief administrative officer Henry Whitehorn.
It generated a lot of heat, sending turnout five points better than statewide for statewide contests. Nickleson, endorsed by outgoing GOP Sheriff Steve Prator, grabbed 45 percent of the vote in the general election while other Republicans picked up 11 percent more. This suggested that he could hold off Whitehorn in the runoff, who had 35 percent, especially if the pattern of blacks disproportionately not turning out in the general election replicated in the runoff.
Which didn’t appear to happen as dramatically in the runoff. For now, with the results unofficial, Nickelson appears to have lost out of 43,231 cast by one vote. More in-depth analysis can follow after results become official on Nov. 27, but a surface look shows that, even as about 3,000 fewer people voted in the runoff or a drop of 2.4 percent, among the precincts with at least 70 percent black Democrats registered, turnout increased around 1.5 percent – voters highly likely to vote for Whitehorn by the general election trend.
If things stand as is, or if Nickelson flips a couple of votes, then political scientists can be taken seriously by their students when they cover material discussing the incentives for people to vote when they say that a single person’s vote could make the difference even in a large constituency.