As candidates for local and state offices jostle back and forth like hungry kids at an ice cream party to be first in line, the real surprise at the party could very well be a stealth candidate like Trina Chu. The political upstart surprised the political world last fall when she declared at virtually the last minute as a candidate for Caddo District Judge against Charles Tutt. And she may be back up to her old tricks again in the upcoming races in the October primary.
Chu’s judicial campaign faced many many challenges from the get go. An immigration lawyer by trade, she was hardly known in legal circles much less the community at large. Chu ran as a Democrat; Tutt was a Republican running in a Republican district. Chu had moved to Shreveport only 10 years ago; Tutt was a lifelong Shreveport resident. And Tutt had nailed down the endorsements of most attorneys and political leaders long before Chu entered the race.
Nonetheless her “Get on Board the Chu Chu Train” campaign which was kicked off by a heavy billboard showing gained more traction than most political observers had estimated. Chu’s amateur approach appealed to many and her campaign was markedly different from the buttoned down traditional campaign that Tutt mounted. Many voters were concerned because her diction was sometimes difficult to follow and a whisper campaign about her religion (rumored to be Buddhist) also turned off many in her district. Tutt is a long time member of Broadmoor Baptist Church which had many members in the district.
To her credit Chu mobilized a new faction in Shreveport politics—the foreign doctor community at LSU Medical School. Her husband is a very well respected physician and Chu, who is a South Vietnamese immigrant, united the foreign medical community to fund her campaign—along with her own deep pockets. This highly intelligent and economically affluent group is close knit—and very supportive of their members in all endeavors. This was both a plus and a minus for Chu—it provided ample funds for her race but it also limited her efforts to reach out to black voters and less affluent white voters in her district. Additionally, Chu was resistant to advice from local political veterans that also hindered her pitch to voters. Nonetheless she ran a respectable race, losing to the heavy favorite by a 62% to 38% margin.
Unlike some candidates who lose and then tuck their tails to be never seen or heard from after a loss, Chu has maintained a higher profile after the October loss than she had before she started her race. And there is little doubt that her thirst to be a political office holder has not diminished, and she still has the pocket book to self fund a large portion of campaign costs. Presumably her financial base is also still in tact, and she certainly has much more name recognition this year than last.
So what will be Chu’s game? Many believed that she would be an active player in the campaign of Eileen Velez, who is challenging Alan Seabaugh in the southeast Shreveport House race. Chu recently stated that she had no involvement in any races because she was busy with her own. She declined to elaborate—so the political gates are evidently wide open for this political maverick.
The Caddo Commission is a possible choice—even though the incumbent Mike Thibodeaux is not termed out. John Atkins has started an aggressive campaign for this seat which includes billboards and telephone polling. Many believe Thibodeaux will not run—however this Republican district is much more favorable to Atkins than Chu—especially with his head start. After running for district judge, the position of a Commissioner would be a political “step down”, and it is doubtful that she will seek this seat.
Another race that could peak her interest is that of BESE board. Although she has no background in education, the 2 Republican candidates in this race seemingly have not gained much traction – Glynnis Johnson and Mary Harris. Most voters do not understand the functions of the BESE board much less have any idea of the district lines or its importance. Chu would be an alternate choice from educators and her financial base would easily outpace both of them combined. Whether or not the BESE board has the appeal to Chu is the real question and most believe it not “sexy” enough to garner her interest in the terms of political power, visibility and influence.
A more appealing political plum would be the Legislature—either as a member of the House or as a Senator. Chu lives in the House district seat being vacated by Richard Burford who is running for the state Senate. Only one candidate—Steve Casey from Stonewall has expressed interest to date and he is considered to be a nominal candidate. Although there have been rumors that Sherry Cheek Buffington, who is termed out of her Senate seat, will run in this election most observers believe Buffington will not be a candidate.
She also is in the Buffington’s Senate district; presently this race has 2 Republicans – Burford and Cloyce Clark; it is considered to be a Republican district. John Milkovich, a Tea Party Democrat, is also in this crowded field. Chu would be way behind as far as campaigning, but then she would be the only woman. A heavy media campaign could catch her up in this race which so far has generated very little public interest.
Of course the real big banana in the October primary is the Caddo District Attorney race. Chu could join a very crowded field—and if she does she will make some big big waves. Currently 2 black candidates have announced—James Stewart and Lalesha Walker-Alford; both are Democrats. The white candidates are all males; Lee Harvill (Independent/no party), Dhu Thompson and Casey Simpson (Republican) and Mark Rogers (Democrat). Stewart and Thompson have the highest visibility at this time—which can be easily matched with a high dollar focused media effort primarily based on TV. The large number of current candidates could play well for Chu only if she expands her base from southeast Shreveport and she can overcome the negatives she encountered last fall. Just like the Stewart campaign hopes to ride on a “time for a black DA” mantra, Chu could push the appeal of a feminine candidate that Alford also hopes to capitalize on.
Chu is expected to be a candidate – and if history is a lesson, a big campaign rollout can be expected in the very near future. Her financial base and name recognition, along with her sex, will give her a good launch pad for a runoff seat – in any race she enters. Those that have already declared have started looking over their shoulders hoping that the Chu Chu Train is on another political track. One can expect to hear a train whistle in the next few days.