by Marion Marks
Running and serving for public office seems to be a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness from which some friends treat you like you have the plague. The majority of citizens would never undertake an all-consuming experience if not driven by some demon that is difficult to explain, much less for others to understand. Yes there are moments of adrenalin rush, but always there’s pressure and frustration, even for candidates who seem to have an easy election. The Caddo District Attorney race is going to be exciting to follow and probably quite frustrating for voters who study the issues.
Voters see glitter and spectacle in many aspects of the life of elected officials, but they always question the motives of those running if they don’t really know or understand the candidate and the office they seek. They question what it is that makes an elected official serve, if it’s not for personal gain or the benefit of back-room supporters. The question almost always asked of candidates who run for the first time is, “What is your thought process in determining where you will start your work if you are elected?”
With the five announced candidates for Caddo DA motivations and questions may only be clear to those in the judicial system and each has potential to make a career and change the course of the parish if elected. But, to the average citizen, this election will be a lengthy period of political messaging with lots of smoke and mirrors.
That’s not really the obvious question though, is it? The question is more, “Candidates, please reveal your secrets to us of why you really want to run for this office. Let us into your mind.” I have been told that many of supporters expect tangible benefits from the DA’s office if each is elected. Each candidate must explain how the election might be about filling jails or protecting special interests.
The truth is that there is no simple answer for any candidate to explain an apparent “quid pro quo” relationship with supporters who are always part of the system, interacting on the fringe with elected officials or government offices. There is no easy or clean explanation for supporting candidates with open wallets other than that electing a specific candidate may benefit some personally. This election should really be about the well being of our community that must be improved, as the national press has beat us bloody for months.
Choosing the next DA is not really any different than choosing our doctor. We do not ask the surgeon, “What are the technical processes of your operating procedures, or how do you hold your implements? Or, to a real estate agent, “Do you go to the office every day or do you work through the internet?” Or, to our pharmacist, “What is your method of choosing which medicines to stock?” We don’t ask them to explain one pill over another every time. We only ask questions about occupations that seem elusive to us. We want to get involved, but after the election, we know we are at the mercy of the honesty or hoped for good judgement that the winners will demonstrate.
The creatives in society, artists, actors or musicians generally seem to have it easy – if they succeed. We don’t question them as much, because if we had their talents and successes we would be a painter, an actor or a musician. It’s hard for most of us to imagine spending so much money running for an office that doesn’t pay as much as you would personally risk running, much less making a living doing something that has no simple “road-map.”
The “road-map” of following the trail of money is one of the easy things that drives those of us who dig into issues of elected officials and candidates when we want to understand their motivations. We start by examining their supporters at announcement time. Then we look at the Secretary of State donor reports. Generally these allow us to understand something about the motivations of candidates and their supporter expectations. The reports come at varying times of the election cycle, and we will be publishing campaign finance reports as they are filed.
Currently, in Caddo Parish, here are the reports of those announced to run for District Attorney (in alphabetical order): Casey Simpson, Lee Harville, Mark Rogers & Dhu Thompson. LaLeshia Walker Alford’s name just entered the equation, so the race is approaching the filing date in September with new options. The “wild Card” remains the unannounced candidate Judge James Stewart, who has been seen working around town with various groups of election media specialists organizing for the “not-so-secret” announcement August 13 that he will be a candidate. The $38,000+ Dhu Thompson had on hand at the end of the July reporting period may be insignificant as we enter the next phase of the election cycle. Signs, flyers, TV, radio and every possible message will bombard voter senses thru the October primary. And, this is only round one of a potentially long fight.
The issue remains, what motivates these candidates to seek public office? It would be nice to consider it a higher calling to serve. However, I tend to believe there are far too many who seek gains at a more base level. Voters will spend more time as we approach the September filing date and the first primary in October investigating candidates, their backers and the trail of money that drives most to seek public office. It’s a very long race ahead.