Its one thing for wantabe political candidates to make campaign pledges, and another for them to actually follow upon them once elected. Such is not the case with Mike Middleton, who will be sworn in as the new commissioner for District 8 at high noon on January 11.
Middleton, a retired Caddo deputy sheriff, ran a hard fought race against incumbent John Escude and Lea Desmarteau. He finished first in the primary and won by a good margin in the runoff election against Desmarteau. Middleton campaigned the old fashion hard way– by constantly pressing the flesh, knocking on doors, attending civic gatherings and personally calling voters. And he made campaign pledges that he intends to keep.
Middleton’s campaign push cards listed his priorities—REDUCE pay by 20%, REPEAL retirement insurance and travel, and RESTORE citizen’s trust. Mike was not happy that Caddo Commissioners are the highest paid part time elected officials in the state of Louisiana and that they have a $15,000 per year unmonitored travel/expense allowance. Middleton was also familiar with the litigation filed by Elliott Stonecipher against the Commission challenging the participation by the Commissioners in the CPERS retirement plan and the Parish health insurance plan along with the pay raises granted by the Commissioners to themselves.
Middleton, along with other newly elected Commissioners Mario Chavez and Steven Jackson, were informed at a recent orientation that they will not be offered participation in CPERS and the Parish health insurance plan because of the pending litigation by Stonecipher. Middleton had planned on declining these “benefits”; he does question how the Commission can justify continuing these for the incumbent Commissioners and denying them for the new kids on the block. (Of course most knowledgeable citizens question how the Commission can continue to ignore these issues, especially after another damning report from the Louisiana state auditor on these very matters.)
Middleton has gone a step further—and one that should approvingly raise eyebrows on good government advocates throughout the Parish. His research indicates that the salary of Commissioners was initially $8400 per year in 1997—and subsequent pay raises granted by the Commissioners have resulted in the current salary of $22,707. (The parish Charter provides that Commissioners get the same pay raises granted to employees.) Stonecipher’s suit requests that all of these salary raises for Commissioners be deemed invalid and that these additional sums be repaid. In an email sent to Commission Administrator Wilson on December 28, Middleton requested that “my salary to be paid $700 per month ($8400 per year) pending the conclusion of the lawsuit and appeals. Once appeals are exhausted I request back pay based on the court’s decision.”
Middleton is one of 4 newly elected Commissioners who have expressed concern over CPERS, the insurance plan and the travel/expense allowance. Joining him as good government advocates are Mario Chavez, Steven Jackson and John Atkins. Chavez ran unopposed after his opponent was disqualified and Atkins ran unopposed when no other candidate qualified. Jackson won a highly contested race in the runoff election against incumbent Michael Williams.
Atkins was initially believed to represent an independent voice on the Commission—if for no other reason than his family wealth and blue blood background. However his apparent close alliance with Matthew Linn and his financial support of Lea Desmarteau—a close friend of Linn and Middleton’s run off opponent—has lead many observers to question if he will be a follower versus a leader on the Commission. Linn’s recruitment of Desmarteau to run for the Commission and thereafter active involvement in her campaign did not endear him to Middleton, much less other Commissioners.
Middleton, along with Chavez and Jackson, could be key players in controversial decisions that in the past were dictated by race and party; the outgoing Commission was composed of 6 white Republicans and 6 black Democrats who generally voted along party/racial lines on controversial decisions. Chavez is Hispanic—the first Hispanic to serve on the Commission, and for that matter in any elected office in northwest Louisiana—and much like Middleton is a novice to politics. Jackson is a seasoned political veteran, – – having been involved in political campaigns in the past and employment as an executive assistant in the Glover administration for over two years.
Collectively the “Three Musketeers” will certainly provide a new political dynamic on the Commission much like the alliance of James Flurry and Willie Bradford formed after their election to the Shreveport City Council in 2014. Middleton’s decision to only be paid the initial Commissioner salary of $700 per month (versus $1,892) certainly sends a message to the entire Commission and sets the tone for true political reform. How much progress the newbies can make will depend in large part by continued public pressure on the other 8 Commissioners who have fattened their wallets at the expense of Caddo taxpayers.