Livingston Parish voters apparently fed up with the animosity among parish officials ousted all but one of the council incumbents Saturday in what one pollster described as an attempt to punish the council for a stalemate rooted in the political squabbles of a previous administration.
In a stunning upset, five of the six Parish Council incumbents seeking re-election were voted out of office Saturday. The sixth is headed for a tough runoff in November.
John Couvillon, of JMC Analytics and Polling, said Sunday Livingston Parish voters tried to prevent the deadlock four years ago by ousting nearly all parish government officials. Disputes over hurricane cleanup, roadwork and engineering fees had created significant turmoil between former Parish President Mike Grimmer and the council members seated at the time.
But the 2011 elections only flipped the parish’s politics on its head as Grimmer helped to pack the council with his allies but lost his own election to Layton Ricks, Couvillon said.
“Essentially nothing changed,” Couvillon said. “So this time, while voters may have wanted to again say, ‘A pox on both your houses,’ no one opposed Ricks, so the council bore the brunt of the voters’ wrath.”
Council members Chance Parent, Joan Landry, Ricky Goff and Delos Blackwell, all in their first term, and five-term incumbent Marshall Harris lost their bids for re-election Saturday. Their districts span the parish from Denham Springs to Albany.
“The contention between the president and the council got voters in a mood to throw out everybody,” Couvillon said.
Parent, Goff and Harris lost in head-to-head matches where the margins of defeat ranged from 16 to 38 percentage points.
Landry and Blackwell faced two challengers apiece and were defeated outright without need for a runoff.
Each of the five ousted incumbents garnered between 31 percent and 42 percent of their respective district’s vote, but none carried more than a single precinct.
“To see Ricky (Goff) and Chance (Parent) go down by substantial margins, I think you’d have to say there was some unease in the electorate, and they took it out on the incumbents,” Couvillon said.
Landry’s defeat also was compelling as she had most often sided with Ricks in the parish’s political disputes. Couvillon chalked up the result there as an exception to the rule, likely due to an issue specific to that district.
“Livingston Parish loves its politics, but it’s easy for an official to get one faction or another upset,” Couvillon said. “With about 15,000 constituents in each district, there is no anonymity, and everything, good or bad, gets magnified. She must have run afoul of somebody and paid an electoral price for it.”
The council’s lone incumbent still standing, Jim Norred, also in his first term, will face Garry “Frog” Talbert in a Nov. 21 runoff for the District 2 seat.
Talbert led Norred, 42 percent to 41 percent, splitting the district’s nine precincts four apiece plus a tie with only 12 votes difference between them. Darla Steagall took the remaining 17 percent.
Couvillon noted that Ricks, too, may have had a tough race if he had drawn an opponent.
“The poll I ran (on Nov. 22) showed that he had decent but not outstanding approval ratings,” Couvillon said. “I’m not convinced he would’ve been ousted, but he could’ve had competition. But with no opponent, even if the voters were upset, there was no way for them to express that.”
According to the poll, Ricks had a 33 percent approval rating, compared with only 24 percent for the council. The council’s disapproval rating was higher than Ricks’ as well, registering at 37 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
Ricks said he believes the voters sent a strong message Saturday: “They are sick and tired of the fighting and political agendas that have caused so much division within parish government. They are ready for us to work together and help our parish grow and reach its fullest potential possible.”
Ricks said he is looking forward to working with the new council members.
In a Facebook post late Saturday night, Goff thanked his supporters and applauded Walker City Councilman Tracy Girlinghouse in his victory.
“The voice of the people is something that I have come to respect over my years of service,” Goff said. “Tonight my love for this parish remains. … If there is anything I can do to help my community in the future I will do my best to be of service.”
On Sunday, Parent and Landry each wished the new council members good luck.
Landry added that she had no regrets serving District 5 and that she looks forward to spending more time with her husband and family.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.