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Consider elections with an open mind

Friday, August 16, 2019
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The grain of salt

I may not have been around very long (at the Leader, in Ruston, or on this earth), but even I can tell that this primary election coming up on Oct. 12 could be a big one for the parish, comparatively speaking.

In total, 24 elections that at least parts of Lincoln Parish can vote in drew multiple candidates in qualifying last week. That includes nine police jury seats and the offices of sheriff, assessor and clerk of court.

Based on many conversations with coworkers, friends and citizens, as well as having gone through one election cycle as a reporter last year in Webster Parish, it seems like the colloquial wisdom is that it’s pretty hard to unseat an incumbent in towns like ours unless they’ve done something overtly terrible. Races are usually only interesting when there’s an open seat with no incumbent in the ring.

If you’re talking recently, that does seem to be the case. All five Lincoln Parish Police Jury incumbents who faced opposition in the 2015 election retained their seats, and four of five did so in 2011.

The last candidate to topple an incumbent was current District Six Police Juror Walter Pullen, and it took a runoff to do it.

But if you go back much further in local history, that narrative begins to change.

Because I cover the police jury, and a whopping eight jurors drew challengers this time around, I did a little digging into those races specifically.

Using data from the Louisiana Secretary of State and Legislative Auditor websites and old editions of the Leader, I decided to get the stats on every contested police jury race that included an incumbent going back to 1995.

There have been 33 such races, and the incumbents won 19 of them, roughly 57% of the time.

Challengers dominated in both 2007 and 2004, winning a combined 11 races over incumbents in those two elections. In the other four elections, challengers won only a combined three times.

What this tells me is that change seems to come in waves. When the public is satisfied, they’re satisfied almost uniformly, and the balance of power remains steady.

And when voters are concerned, like they seemed to be in the mid-2000’s, change comes all at once, almost across the board.

It was encouraging for me to find out that while in recent years voters have mostly carried on with what they know, that hasn’t always been the case. That indicates to me that the voter pool hasn’t historically been complacently waving in the same people without question — when there are issues, the people of Lincoln Parish consider their options and make changes when needed.

So this time around, whether you believe things are going fine or that troubles lie ahead, I ask that readers ensure each of their votes in every race is made from an informed position.

Read up on the topics you care about. Ask your candidates how they plan to handle important situations, such as how a police juror would tackle the recent $1 million severance tax shortfall or what management philosophy a sheriff would take with the detention center.

Don’t be that person who simply says, “I know her, I’m sure she’ll do a good job,” or “he’s helped us out before, so I’m sure he’ll be the best choice this time,” and calls it a day.

Not that those attitudes are wrong — an incumbent may very well be your best choice! — but you owe it to yourself and your parish to put in the time to make sure your vote is as foolproof as you can make it.

Start each race with an open mind, and see where you land. Hopefully together, we’ll land in a better Lincoln Parish.

Caleb Daniel is the Ruston Daily Leader’s Digital News Editor and covers the Lincoln Parish Police Jury and schools.