Shortly after the polls close November 19th, those who care will know how State Senator Lydia Jackson fared in one of Louisiana’s most interesting legislative re-election bids. If this race for Senate District 39 goes the other way, and former State Senator Greg Tarver takes back this seat he held before Jackson, a lot of politicos around Louisiana will be surprised.
Not surprised will be those who live in and most immediately around this district. This race is a push, in spite of heavy early bets saying Lydia Jackson had nothing to worry about.
It is interesting that no legislative race this summer and fall has attracted any greater attention from insiders and places all around Louisiana. Lydia Jackson is well respected among most politicians and other government officials, and this race matters a great deal to Democrats, especially those in the Legislative Black Caucus, along with a meaningful number of others. Of course, none of that counts in the count – the winner will be picked by a concoction of voters in a district that is a piece of inner city Shreveport and all of North Caddo Parish. These voters personify the political differences in Shreveport / Caddo: urban black and rural white constituents, with the former outnumbering the latter a bit more than 2:1. Though Jackson led the primary by 43% to 42%, the white Republican then in the race, Jim Slagle, got the significant rest. He has since endorsed Tarver.
Owing to her failure to salute and follow orders every time Governor Jindal’s Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell told her to, Ms. Jackson was targeted for defeat by the duo, and their meddling in the race on behalf of Tarver continues. Tarver and many others know, however, that the “help” of Jindal, Inc. has a habit of backfiring: the state’s two most powerful political kingpins – just ask them – also targeted Sen. Sherri Cheek for defeat, and moved political heaven and earth to elect Rep. Jane Smith to the senate seat being vacated by Senator Buddy Shaw. Both attempts failed spectacularly, underscoring yet again how unimpressed the folk in this northwest corner of Louisiana truly are with Baton Rouge political influence.
Right now, however, it looks like Jindal and his right/left/middle-hand man Teepell have a chance to chalk one up in their startling and unprecedented push for control of all state government levers. When Jindal recently anointed John Alario as Senate President (awaiting near dead-cinch approval by the Senate), he politically screamed his intention to control the Senate as he does the House of Representatives. So, turning those primary election Jim Slagle white votes into votes for Tarver is a part of that scheme.
This race has the distinct feel of one trending away from Lydia Jackson. A reason, ironically, is the impact of yet another meddler in the race, Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover. The two are joined at the political hip, and it is not good news for the incumbent that she is taking well-aimed fire from both Jindal/Teepell and the fast-growing anti-Glover crowd. (Baton Rouge area readers may best understand Glover’s impact this way: he, like East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden, is in a hubris-induced, and likely politically irreversible decline.)
In a perfect application of the “all politics is local” axiom, political insiders in Shreveport, especially its black movers and shakers, have had more than they can take of Glover, who is a year into his second term. In the view of these players, and more to the point, if Lydia Jackson must be politically sacrificed to cap, then end, Glover’s heyday, so be it. Jackson played directly into those hands when she ceded her election-night television time for her “victory speech” to Glover. His rah-rah was far more than only inappropriate for a major city’s mayor, it was seen by many – myself included – to be embarrassingly over-the-top.
Lydia Jackson and Cedric Glover share an aloofness and air of disinterest with constituent problems which feed political weakness. Greg Tarver, on the other hand, is the political equivalent of a Wal-Mart greeter, known from his prior legislative stint in this seat for his (Edwin) Edwardian era tapping of every slush source then in existence. Regardless, rarely does any insider fail to notice Lydia Jackson’s smarts and diligence when in the trenches in the state legislature.
A final determinant for many is also fuzzy, thanks again to Jackson’s alliance with Glover. We can call this one “ethics,” and many who know Lydia Jackson best testify that this is one of her strengths. The opposite is the case for her challenger, putting it perhaps too politely. To hear the insiders, however, Jackson’s close relationship with Glover carves deeply into this advantage. While no one can honestly claim that ethical conduct has been so much as noted by Tarver during his career, Glover’s record in that regard is also tarnished. Jackson is not Glover, but her unreserved political embrace of him is more than a bit discomfiting.
Political players learn that once elected, too many candidates for whom they have worked quickly set about to “punish their friends and reward their enemies.” When the smoke clears, Senator Jackson will have either overcome or succumbed to that axiom’s close cousin: trying to win while taking fire from both friends and enemies.
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