Black-white coalitions might mean difference in runoff races
3rd December 2012 · 0 Comments
By Christopher Tidmore
The December 8, 2012 runoff elections may settle a question that could impact Louisiana politics for the next generation. Can biracial coalitions succeed in electing moderate African-American candidates over more moderately-liberal white ones in Caucasian majority districts?
Moreover, can such white-Black coalitions do the same when both candidates are Caucasian-and-Republican or African-American-and-Democrat, when the districts reflect those racial dynamics?
Dealing with the former question, in other words, can Black candidates win “white” districts when conservative Caucasians back them over white challengers? The Latoya Cantrell versus Dana Kaplan race for Orleans Council District B is the living proverbial petri dish test.
District B is an odd seat, a narrow Black majority district that usually enjoys a slight major White turnout on election day. Stacy Head won the seat twice, but against comparatively weak African-American runoff opponents. Now that she has been promoted to Council At-Large, a tightly fought Black-White contest for District B will occur this Saturday.
But, with a twist. The leaders of the silk stocking White precincts in Uptown and the Garden District, the local GOP, and even Head herself have endorsed the African-American candidate, Latoya Cantrell.
If 2008 is any guide, Black turnout will fall considerably in a December election, with only two council races and a 911 telephone rate hike on the ballot. Therefore, Cantrell cannot depend upon the strong African-American surge to the polls that helped propel her to a 38.97 percent first place finish over Kaplan’s 30.03 percent.
Cantrell may lose her nearly two thousand-vote margin over Kaplan thanks to reduced turnout, but what the Broadmoor activist is counting on is that the white supporters of Eric Strachan will make up the difference.
The former City Council aide was only 1,500 ballots behind his fellow white candidate, with 24.39 percent of the vote, yet his constituency is somewhat different. While Strachan can boast of a range of supporters, his core has always been the wealthier Uptown precincts, as befits Stacy Head’s former staffer.
Kaplan, an juvenile justice activist, was more of an establishment Democrat, and thus enjoyed the backing of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and other prominent Democrats including Congressman Cedric Richmond, Assessor Erroll Williams, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, and Representatives Jared Brossett, Walt Leger, and Helena Moreno.
Stacy Head, though, stayed neutral in the primary—which probably ranks as part of the reason that Strachan, her former aide, could not consolidate the goodwill that his boss had built, particularly in District B’s white community. It is not that Head opposed Strachan. Far from it. It was just that she had worked very closely with Cantrell on Broadmoor issues. She could not support both, so supported neither in the primary — but not now.
Cantrell, the Broadmoor Improvement Association President, who had done so much to help Head’s early bids for office, and worked tirelessly not only for the restoration of her neighborhood when it was “green dotted,” also backed the councilwoman’s plans to rehabilitate Freret Street.
Converting the once moribund commercial corridor into the Arts/Entertainment/Eatery avenue (into which it has evolved) has been a passion with Head. The councilwoman wanted to continue that trend and extend it to District B’s other main street O. C. Haley. She knew both Strachan and Cantrell would carry on that legacy.
When the latter beat the former out into the runoff, Head did something she had avoided in October. She endorsed. And, Latoya Cantrell was the beneficiary.
As Stacy Head herself put it in a press release over a week ago, “Because I have served this district for so long, it can be difficult to pass the torch to someone new so that I can focus my energies citywide. But I feel absolute confidence that Latoya is the right woman for the job.”
“She will take our corridor revitalization successes on Freret, Claiborne and O. C. Haley, and recreate them throughout District B. I have seen this firsthand with her work in Broadmoor. Look at the corner of Washington and Broad where Laurel Street Bakery and other small businesses are building.
“Latoya knows that a healthy community requires thoughtful development—The Broadmoor commercial corridor is adjacent to the historic Rosa Keller Library and Wilson Charter School—both of which I witnessed Latoya personally fight for years.
“Bottom line, a healthy community requires a committed councilmember to encourage the good things and discourage the bad. And speaking of discouraging the bad, there is no one who tolerates blight or problem landlords less than Latoya. She has methodically identified and targeted these negatives in Broadmoor and taken every action possible to discourage them—from pressing code enforcement to issue citations, to writing letters of warning to problem landlords.
“In sum, I have worked hand in hand, and shoulder to shoulder with this smart, hard-working, and committed woman for seven years and I would be proud to serve with her, but I will be even more proud to call her my family’s representative on the council.”
Eric Strachan, who came out for Latoya Cantrell very quickly after the primary, equally helped legitimatize the former District B councilwoman’s endorsement. Moreover, the former Council aide has been knocking on doors for Cantrell in the precincts where he performed most strongly.
In other words, Strachan has been asking conservative and moderate whites to vote for Cantrell, saying the African-American candidate has more in line with their interests than the white candidate. And, backing him up on these house-to-house canvassings has been a somewhat other iconoclastic white Democrat, Rep. Neil Abramson—also sending the message to Caucasians that Cantrell is the best candidate for the pocket book and public safety.
From a credibility standpoint, Cantrell can also boast of the backing of the Alliance For Good Government, the official Democratic Party of Orleans Endorsement (OPDEC) and the official Orleans Parish Republican Party nod.
Whether this will rank enough for the white electorate to strongly back a Black candidate over a fellow Caucasian on Saturday remains to be seen — especially as Kaplan also enjoys the endorsements of the TP and Gambit.
In the Orleans Council District B race, both of the candidates are Democrats. Cantrell’s attempt is not without precedent. Whites and Blacks, even Republicans, have swung to their votes in contests between two Democrats in the past, regardless of the race of the contenders. However, it has rarely been achieved the other way. In a contentious Baton Rouge area Supreme Court contest, conservative and business activists are attempting to convince white GOP voters to cast their ballots for a Black Democrat over a white Republican—a tall order.
John Michael Guidry is an African American former Democratic State legislator from North Baton Rouge running for the Associate Justice post in the Louisiana Supreme Court’s 5th District. On the coattails of Mayor Kip Holden’s re-election victory, Guidry ran up a 20-point victory in East Baton Rouge parish over his field of seven opponents.
His 34.23 percent showing in EBR, though, ranked far below the margin in the eight-parish seat, where Guidry led Republican Jeff Hughes by only 27 percent-21 percent, and where the GOP candidates collectively earned a majority of the votes in the entire 5th District even with Barack Obama on the ballot.
When one considers that Hughes portrays himself as “a pro-liberty, hardcore conservative Republican judge from Livingston Parish who believes in limited government”, it would appear at first glace as if Hughes was the proverbial favorite for the Baton Rouge-area seat on the state Supreme Court.
However, Guidry has a proverbial “ace up his sleeve.” The African-American Democrat has managed to collect the support from all of the state’s major (GOP-leaning) trade groups. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), Associated Building Contractors (ABC), Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA), and the Louisiana Association of Manufacturers’ Political Action Committee (LAMPAC) have all endorsed a Black Democrat over a white conservative Republican.
As the conservative political website the Hayride.com put it, “What’s happening here is legacy lawsuits. Hughes took a $380,000 check from a group of trial lawyers headed by John Carmouche, who leads the league in filing suits against oil companies on behalf of landowners who may have suffered environmental damage as a result of previous drilling operations. The business community sees legacy lawsuits as a prime example of how plaintiff attorneys and their allies on the judicial bench are corrupting the legal system, and that corruption in their opinion is ruining the state’s business climate – driven, as it is, in such large part by the oil and gas industry.”
“And because Hughes is ‘bought and paid for’ by the legacy lawsuit crowd, and also because his record as a state appellate judge is somewhat suspect where the business community is concerned – one survey of judicial records has Hughes with only a 29 percent score as a pro-business judge where Guidry actually scored a 58 – the trade groups have given him the high hat.
“Hughes did, however, land an endorsement from Jindal after he won a spot in the runoff. That and the racial makeup of the district – whites outnumber blacks two to one – is probably enough for him to win.
“Guidry, meanwhile, has some actual money to run with after relying solely on the fact he was the only black candidate in the primary. He got the vast majority of the black vote and he’ll get it again, but he won’t be able to avoid running TV commercials in this phase. Which is where LABI, ABC, LOGA, the Louisiana Chemical Association, LAMPAC and the others come in. Guidry really needs their support, since in a low-turnout runoff with neither Barack Obama nor Kip Holden on the ballot he’s going to really struggle to get black voters out in the same numbers they came to the polls on Nov. 6.
“What this comes down to is whether the business community, and particularly the CEO’s of the larger companies who have the majority of the stroke in those trade groups, can make the case to the suburban white middle-class voters with whom they are usually allied in state political matters that a black Democrat is a better choice for the state Supreme Court than a white Republican. That won’t be an easy thing to do.”
Biracial coalitions are also playing a role in the two other big contests of the Louisiana Ballot on Saturday. In Orleans Parish District E, Rep. Austin Badon came devastatingly close to a primary victory in the New Orleans East-Ninth Ward seat with 47.5 percent of the vote and a more than 4,000 vote lead over second place finisher James Gray (10801 to 6714 or 29.52 percent).
Badon, a maverick politician who supports School Choice and pro-law enforcement initiatives, ranks as an African-American candidate who enjoys the most favor with the leaders of the white and Vietnamese minorities in District E. Whereas Gray’s victorious precincts on November 6th came from the Ninth Ward. For Gray to win, he must either pull away non-Black voters from Badon, or unite the vast majority of the African-American vote behind him and not the State Rep. Even the portions of the Black electorate that pushed the button for Badon a month ago.
That’s a very tall order of biracial coalition-building. As is the attempt of Congressman Charles Boustany to woo Democratic and Black votes in his fight with fellow Congressman Jeff Landry in the Third Congressional District.
Louisiana lost a Congressional seat in the 2010 Census and the two U.S. Representatives were drawn together. Landry who won two years ago with heavy Tea Party backing argued that all he had to do is beat Democrat Ron Richard for a runoff slot, and the more conservative and white-super majority electorate would choose him over the more moderate Republican Boustany in December.
And, narrowly, Landry achieved his first goal, yet Boustany has actively reached out to Democratic voters to forestall the second part of the Tea Party Congressman’s plan. The latter has embraced the idea of higher revenues in any deal to avert the fiscal cliff, and used his pragmatism to deal with President Barack Obama as a stick to convince Democrats that Landry is too far out of the mainstream. As such, liberals and minorities should turnout to vote for Boustany.
Having been in office longer than Landry, Boustany enjoys a certain incumbency advantage, especially considering more of his old seat comprises the new Third District than Landry’s. Still, though, a low turnout December election seems taylor-made for a Tea Party candidate. It was how Landry defeated the GOP establishment favorite two years ago, General Hunt Downer.
Unless, of course, African-American voters turnout for Boustany. But, Blacks, while willing to support white Democrats, even over fellow African-Americans, have shown a resistance to casting a ballot for any Republican. In the 2011 statewide elections, many Black voters simply skipped over the GOP-on-GOP contests, even when some Republicans, like Speaker Jim Tucker, had extensive endorsements from Black leaders in his race for Secretary of State.
Put another way, biracial coalitions that cross party as well as racial lines still remain a challenge whether the candidate is a Black Democrat with White GOP support like Latoya Cantrell or a white Republican seeking Black Democratic backing like Boustany.
This article originally published in the December 3, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.