Its still a long time to the September 8-10 qualifying for the Caddo District Attorney election—but those seriously interested must step to the plate soon for a successful campaign to become one of the most powerful elected officials in the Parish, just behind that of the High Sheriff. And the “pick a horse to ride” DA candidate parade now has 2 well known judges in the mix. As long speculated, Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge
James Stewart has advised a reliable source that he will enter this race, and Caddo Judge Mike Pitman has recently stated that he was seriously considering the race.
These unofficial but not unexpected pronouncements certainly change the political landscape for the election to fill the unexpired term of former Caddo Judge Charles Scott who died unexpectedly in April. Judge Mike and Judge James entering the race puts a whole new dynamic into play and no doubt this is not welcome news to those that have previously announced—new Caddo DA Dale Cox, Douglas Lee Harville and Dhu Thompson. And those who have been quietly talking about the DA race will have a harder decision to make; these reported wantabes include retired Second Circuit Judge Gay Gaskins, retired Caddo Judge Leon Emanuel, Ross Owens, Craig Smith, and Ron Lattier, among others.
Both Judge James and Judge Mike bring a lot to the table as candidates. Both judges, including Judge Mike’s wife Frances, have not been receptive to journalistic criticism; once they become political candidates they will not have the luxury of a black robe “free press shield” to hide behind. And the involvement of family members in the campaigns will be subject to close scrutiny; Judge Frances will be limited in what she can publicly do and say to support her husband. The same will be true of Caddo Judge Karelia Stewart, the niece of Judge James, and Fifth Circuit Chief Judge Carl Stewart who is the older brother of Judge James. Judge Mike will have the decided advantage; Judge Francis’ brother, (local attorney Marshall Jones) will not be restricted by the judicial canons of ethics.
On paper Judge Mike and Judge James match up pretty well. Judge Mike has been on the Caddo bench since 2004; he handily defeated Pete King in a very well-funded campaign that raised the eyebrows among local politicos following Pitman’s campaign strategy including (reportedly) joining 2 large church congregations on the same day as an announced candidate. Judge James served on the Caddo bench for three years and has been at the Second Circuit since 1994; both of his campaigns were walks in the park. Both candidates served stints in the Caddo DA’s office; Judge James was first assistant before
he was elected judge. And Judge Mike was also a special prosecutor on several high profile cases in Bossier District court.
Race and political party will be big factors in the DA election. Registered voters in Caddo Parish are 49.9% white, 46.1% black and 4% other. Judge James is black; Judge Mike is white. Judge Mike is a Republican; Judge James is a Democrat. By party, Caddo voters are 49.4% Democrat, 26.9% are Republican and 27.7% are Other Party.
Judge James is a graduate of the City of Byrd, i.e. C.E.Byrd High School. He also has his brother Carl’s apron-strings that were a key factor in his two judicial elections. These two factors should help him with white crossover votes. In the black community the entire Stewart clan is, for good reason, well honored and respected.
Judge Mike has a decided financial advantage – – brother in law Marshall Jones and wife Judge Frances have substantial family wealth along with well-heeled friends and family connections. Local attorney Carl Rice is among those and in past elections he has had substantial influence with black ministers and black elected officials. Both Judges must resign their judgeships once they officially announce for the race.
How all these factors shake out – including the number of other candidates who ultimately qualify ( versus announce) in September – – is an unknown at this time. By local standards voter turnout should be good for the October primary which features Caddo Commission races along with the Louisiana governor and lieutenant governor; the same may not be true for the November general election for runoff candidates. This race could well be decided by an endorsement of former Caddo District Attorney Paul Carmouche who enjoys a high political profile among both black and white voters; he has been encouraged by
many to enter this race although he will probably only be a spectator albeit a politically powerful one.