Note from John Settle, April 6, 2015:
This column was NOT written as an endorsement of Constable Hatfield. I have learned that Don Ashley was NOT hired by Sheriff Prator. The information regarding Roy Fletcher was provided by Hatfield. Sheriff Prator has advised me that his deputies have NOT been precluded from working as part-time constables. Sheriff Prator also stated that he never asked Hatfield to not run against him.
In what many consider to be a David versus Goliath battle, Eric Hatfield has thrown down the gauntlet at Steve Prator’s feet declaring his candidacy for the October Caddo Sheriff election. In what was a surprise to most political observers, Hatfield announced this week on the Shreveport riverfront in front of about 30 supporters, many of which were fellow constables. Hatfield had previously met with Prator
advising him of his decision and declining Prator’s insistent requests to not oppose him.
Hatfield has almost 12 years experience as a constable. Prator has served as Sheriff since 2000; previously he was the Shreveport Police chief. Prator was challenged in 2011 by Shreveport attorney Craig Smith, who now is a Prator supporter. In that election, Smith did very little campaigning—as in almost nil other than a few billboards; he surprisingly drew more than 20% of the vote.
Many consider Prator to be virtually invincible — citing his large campaign war chest ($200,000), his Republican political connections and the large number of Sheriff deputies and auxiliary deputies who represent a substantial voting block. Prator’s wife Carolyn is also very politically savvy; she has had a major impact on the composition of the Caddo Levee Board and its staff after being appointed to the Board.
In his announcement speech, Hatfield did not hold back any punches—and in fact he came out swinging against the incumbent. Although he says he does not want to run a negative campaign, Hatfield says Prator’s record, policies and personal life should be examined just like any other candidate. Hatfield stated that race and income should not be a factor in providing security throughout the parish, and that there should be more diversity in the upper ranks of the sheriff’s office. He also said he was a nondrinker and that a sheriff should not be driving after drinking.
Hatfield’s support from fellow constables is due in part to Prator’s efforts to have legislation enacted to restrict the number of deputy constables to one; presently there are no limits on the number of deputies. Prator has also ordered that none of his personnel may work part-time for constables as deputies. Hatfield also says that Prator has very recently excluded all constables from the sheriff’s training academy in obtaining weapon recertification.
Hatfield is opposed to several of Prator’s law enforcement policies and he intends to educate Caddo voters more during the campaign. He believes he will have support at the polls (although not publicly) from many Caddo sheriff deputies who are unhappy with Prator; he declined to say if Caddo District Attorney Charles Scott would endorse his campaign. Scott and Prator parted political ways over the assault weapon controversy with several Caddo assistant district attorneys that Prator disclosed after Scott fired long time investigator Don Ashley (who Prator hired).
Hatfield is tight-lipped about who will be his key campaign lieutenants, although he did say that heavyweight political consultant Roy Fletcher of Baton Rouge had been retained. Fletcher has worked in more than 500 political campaigns and in 2000 he served as National Deputy Campaign Manager for Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign. Fletcher has a well-deserved reputation of working for winners and his campaign commercials have set the bar for many Louisiana races. Fletcher certainly brings credibility to Hatfield’s campaign.
One of Hatfield’s key supporters says that money will not be a problem and that many influential people throughout the parish are ready for a change in the sheriff’s office. Prator certainly has a high public profile, and many consider his political approval rating to be very high. Hatfield says that there is much more discontent with Prator than is publicly known and that he is drawing support from a diverse group throughout the parish. Hatfield promises more about his platform in the coming months which will, by comparison, point out what he says is the need for a new sheriff.
Hatfield may not be a household name now but by early summer Caddo voters should quickly recognize Constable Hatfield as a serious candidate to be the next Caddo sheriff. The October primary will have a large voter turnout—the ballot features the Louisiana governor’s race plus Caddo Commission seats. Hatfield’s announcement certainly shakes up the local political scene and it could easily overshadow the governor’s race in Caddo as far as public interest.