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Old guard loses power in police jury flip

Wednesday, October 18, 2023
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No matter what happens in the Nov. 18 runoffs, the Lincoln Parish Police Jury has been flipped.

Two of the old guard didn’t seek reelection, and two fell in Saturday’s primary. That’s half of the “Gang of Eight,” the members who, in January, fired former parish Administrator Doug Postel for no stated reason.

Three of the four were also hardliners in the jury’s protracted and fractious initial refusal to contract with the City of Ruston to provide rescue and emergency medical service to rural parts of the parish.

Clearly, the turnovers are rooted in those issues. And the hardest to fall was jury President Richard Durrett. He won only 23% of his Simsboro- centric District 3, despite being a lifelong resident there and parish administrator for 17 years.

Durrett’s heavy, and some would say, underhanded involvement in the emergency services issue opened the way for a strong challenger. Political newcomer Dan Lord, a plumber and former Ruston firefighter, was it. He easily beat Durrett in all five District 3 precincts in a race that saw the largest voter turnout (40.5%) in the parish.

District 11 voters dumped Gang of Eight member Sharyon Mayfield. As with Durrett, Mayfield didn’t carry a single precinct in her three- way race. Patsy Candler and Diane Heard Richards, who like Lord are both political newbies, face off in the runoff.

Meantime, two more of the eight, District 1’s Theresa Wyatt and District 10’s Milton Melton, advanced to runoffs, but not particularly comfortably for incumbents. Only 22 votes separated Wyatt from her top opponent, Greg “Big Coach” Williams.

Wyatt announced her reelection bid in July. About a week later, after Williams said he was running, Wyatt pulled out.

On the opening day of qualifying, she got back in, saying supporters wanted her to run, and that they had left a lot of nice edible goodies on her front porch.

Milton, the jury’s vice president and a first-termer, got 48% of the vote in his district. His runoff opponent, Gary Wayne Baldwin, is another political unknown who’s attended jury meetings with a single issue on his agenda: anger over increased sewer rates.

But Baldwin, like most of the other challengers, campaigned on transparency and communication with constituents.

District 1’s Hazel Hunter, who was in lockstep with the anti- City of Ruston, anti-Postel group, didn’t seek reelection. She endorsed Karen Ludley, who beat opponent Tommie Woods with a resounding 68% of the vote.

How Ludley will vote on issues like the renewal of the emergency services contract that will come up during the new jury term remains to be seen. Election watchers say at least part of her path to victory was her lifelong residency in the district. Woods moved there from Ruston about a year ago.

Out, too, is District 8’ s Skip Russell. He didn’t seek reelection. For months, Russell sided with anti- City of Ruston crowd before switching at the end. But he remained a member of the Gang of Eight. District 9 juror Joe Henderson was the only long- timer and “Eighter” to win outright. He beat his lone opponent with 63% of the vote. But it had been many jury terms since Henderson had even drawn an opponent.

District 12’ s Annette Straughter was the only one of the eight to survive the election process unscathed. She was unopposed.

The jury flips boil down to one thing: leadership. So far, voters appear to have rejected the old territorial mindset in which jurors care only about their districts to the exclusion of the rest of the parish and oppose whatever they think Ruston favors.

Whoever the next jurors are will join four returning colleagues who spent the last four years pushing for change: District 4’s T.J. Cranford, District 5’s Logan Hunt, District 7’s Matt Pullin, and District 6’s Glenn Scriber.

It’s still too early to say exactly what the flip means. Only the votes that the jury makes when the new term begins in January will tell the tale.

But one thing does seem certain: The old guard has lost its power.

Nancy Bergeron is a reporter for the Daily Leader. She can be reached by email at