Alford: Mayoral elections offer political lessons


There are rarely earth-shattering surprises found on election ballots in Louisiana, but there are always eyebrow-raisers among our local contests. Just a review of last month’s mayoral races in Bossier City, Lake Charles and Bastrop were proof enough.  

In what may have been the biggest local upset of the 2021 cycle, longtime incumbent Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker lost to challenger Tommy Chandler, 56% to 44%.

Matt Kay of KDM Digital Solutions, who served as Chandler’s campaign manager, says the upset was made possible with a budget of just about $110,000. But time spent planning and preparing were the real keys to victory for Chandler, says Kay.

Chandler began polling in October 2020 and stayed mostly quiet until the very last moment. “He qualified on the final day, with only a few hours left in the day,” Kay says. 

Sometimes the best way to achieve a surprise victory is to sneak up on it, as Chandler did. But stealth was only one aspect of his successful formula.

Voters also embraced a theme of term limits, a campaign topic not often thrown about on the local level. Chandler promised to implement a three-term cap for the mayor and city council, a vow that came to define Chandler’s entire bid.

Crime and traffic were secondary issues for Chandler, but only because the subject matter allowed him to turn the election into a referendum on the incumbent.

To his credit, Walker deserves a tip of the hat as well. Instead of complaining about his loss and displaying the bitterness we’ve seen in other officials on the way out the door, Walker immediately kicked off the transition process so Chandler could hit the ground running.   

Just like they did during qualifying, Chandler and Kay waited until the last minute to unleash what little spending capacity they had with a three-week TV and radio campaign. They knew once a campaign goes on the air, it has to stay on the air. The campaign also saturated mailboxes and put a large focus on targeting absentee ballots.

In Lake Charles, incumbent Mayor Nic Hunter was re-elected with 74% of the vote against three Democrats. Heading into his second term, Hunter is the first Republican mayor of Lake Charles and the youngest. 

More than anything else, Hunter is living proof that Republicans in Louisiana can build coalitions across party lines and earn the support of black voters. Hunter won 42 out of 57 precincts and received 90% or greater in 15 of those. 

In fact, if you look at the 27 precincts Hunter lost in 2017, which are still predominantly Democrat and African-American precincts, he improved his percentage of the vote in those precincts by an average of 36%.

Voters probably gave Hunter high marks for leading the city through not only a global pandemic, but also hurricanes Laura and Delta. “What makes Nic a real rising star in the Republican Party is he gets back to the basic principles of honest and transparent leadership and lets the results, not the rhetoric, define his success,” says Jason Hebert of the Political Firm, who serves as Hunter’s campaign manager. 

In yet another local upset, incumbent Bastrop Mayor Henry Charles Cotton was squeezed out of the runoff. It’ll be Betty Alford-Olive (29%) versus Clarence W. Hawkins (21%). The incumbent mayor missed the runoff by just 24 votes. Just like with Bossier City, the mayoral race in Bastrop showed us that politicians cannot always count on their incumbency to make it past the finish line.

As Chandler and Hunter settle into their shared reality of being elected and re-elected, respectively, voters in Bastrop have to survive one more runoff, scheduled for April 24. Technically, we’ll all have to survive it, since it’s the last remaining mayor’s race in Louisiana this spring. 

Mayors have some of the toughest elected jobs around, so it’s only natural that the paths to getting elected shouldn’t be easy, either. Luckily for the rest of us, there are always lessons to be learned from their victories and defeats—if we’re willing to look.  

Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.