Now that the election season is finally over Caddo citizens can take heart, to some extent, that the Caddo Commission has 5 new elected members to join the “hung over 7” who have voted consistently to line their pockets—literally and figuratively, the commissioners have been under fire, and rightly so, for being the highest paid part time public officials in the state of Louisiana, if not the nation. The returning self-serving members have voted themselves several pay raises, an annual unmonitored annual travel expense allowances of $15,000 per year and the expenditure of public funds to defend their participation in a retirement plan deemed illegal by state officials.
The public pressure on this greedy bunch was evident by the number of incumbents challenged (Michael Williams, Matthew Linn, Ken Epperson, Lyndon Johnson, James Smith, and John Escude) and the public pressure that forced 2 to not seek reelection (Lindora Baker and Mike Thibodeaux). One Commissioner was termed out—David Cox. Although all the incumbents were re-elected except for Williams and Escude, the fact that they had to run opposed to reclaim their positions was a new reality that hopefully sent a message to a group that has long considered themselves above public scrutiny, much less criticism as public officials.
In what can only be considered to be rank attempts to empire build, several Commissioners actively participated in the elections of other Commissioners, especially in the run off election this past Saturday. And to make it worse several City Councilman—Willie Bradford, Oliver Jenkins, Stephanie Lynch and Jeff Everson—felt a very questionable need to endorse Commission candidates, as if they do not have enough issues to concern themselves with a city going nowhere fast. As far as the Commission king maker wantabes, none were more blatant that Matthew Linn and Ken Epperson; both want to be President of the Commission in 2016 when the entire new Commission takes office.
Linn recruited his good friend Lea Desmarteau to run against Mike Middleton who was the first to challenge Escude—making it a 3 person race. Linn coached Lea during the primary and then openly endorsed her candidacy at his victory party in the primary. (When confronted at a meeting of the Broadmoor Neighborhood Association, Linn texted that he hoped Middleton won the runoff with Desmarteau.) Thereafter he actively promoted (and managed?) Lea’s campaign with signage on his property (which was outside of the district), Facebook postings, emails and sign waving on the day of the general election. Linn also recruited John Atkins, who won an uncontested election to the Commission, to support Desmarteau’s campaign financially. (Atkins won on the basis of his family wealth, not his credentials; the incumbent and other interested potential candidates did not want to match up to a millionaire by birth).
Epperson supported embattled Commissioner Michael Williams who has been indicted by the feds for his participation in a Commission paid SWAG Nation program; Steven Jackson challenged Williams. Epperson not only ran ads for Williams but also recruited other Commissioners (and evidently Councilman Willie Bradford) to join in the effort to keep Williams on the Commission. Much of the back story in this election was an ongoing feud between State Senator Greg Tarver and Councilman Bradford against former Mayor Cedric Glover who had employed Jackson and endorsed him as well. The race was very, very contentious and included a mailing by Williams claiming the endorsement of Galilee Minister E. Edward Jones who is seriously ill; Jones’ daughters released a public statement denying the endorsement.
As they say on the streets, both Linn and Epperson “pooped in their pants” when it came to seeking support for their bids to become the Commission’s next president. Traditionally Linn is in line for this position; his past votes to line his pockets (along with the other Commissioners) including his $15,000 vacation destination “education trip” to New England last fall have clouded his chances of success. No doubt his over the top efforts to elect Desmarteau to be an ally for his cause will certainly be a factor for Middleton when he votes for Commission president. In a similar fashion Epperson should not count on Jackson to even give him the time of day much less vote to support his “leadership” as president of the Council. The campaign mailings and rhetoric in the Jackson race reached new lows, even by Caddo standards, for negative gutter politics.
It’s unlikely that Middleton (a white Republican) and Jackson (a black Democrat) will fall into the typical racial-political party split that has been the backroom reality on key Commission votes. (The Commission breakdown is 6 black Democrats and 6 white Republicans.) Added to the mix is political newcomer Mario Chavez—the first Hispanic to be elected to any political office in Northwest Louisiana. Chavez is a Republican independent businessman from Southern Hills who had a very strong racially diverse backing from the day he announced for the Commission race. Together Chavez, Jackson and Middleton may very well be The Three Musketeers that vote as a block on key Commission issues.
The 2 other Commission newcomers Cawthorne (who was initially appointed to fill Lindora Baker’s seat in the summer and who won his first elected term last month) and Adkins have probably lost any chance of influence on the Commission. Cawthorne early on allied himself with Epperson and as evidenced by the “cute” picture of Adkins and Linn together in the Sunday Times social section, Adkins is in Linn’s hip pocket—or maybe vice-versa.
Chavez and Middleton are new to the political world of the deal-making and power brokers; Chavez is a quick study and Middleton got a real dose of “politics” in the bad sense of the word during his campaign runoff election. Jackson is a political veteran having worked for Big G, and his experience was hardened in the race against Williams. All three have pledged to vote for a charter amendment to eliminate automatic pay raises for Commissioners, to rein in the travel allowance and to stop wasting tax dollars defending the retirement plan for Commissioners. Their diversity, independence and enthusiasm will be a much needed – and welcome change – on the Commission. It should be fun to watch as The Three Musketeers upset the traditional Commission applecart in their efforts to protect taxpayer dollars and restore integrity to the Caddo Commission.