An incumbent school board member in southern Livingston Parish failed this week to win a second term in an election upset that shocked many in the region.
Former school principal Jim Richardson's loss to a little known candidate has some locals and experts pointing to party affiliation in the increasingly Republican Parish as a key factor.
While Richardson ran designated as "no party," his opponent, Frank Parrino, ran as a Republican. Parrino won the election with 54 percent of the vote, according to unofficial totals from the Louisiana Secretary of State.
"This is a quintessential example of the changing politics of Livingston Parish," said political consultant John Couvillon, of JMC Enterprises. "The politics of Livingston Parish is changing in that not only the Democratic Party label, any label but the Republican party has become toxic."
Parrino will represent Livingston Parish School Board District 8, which includes the schools in Frost, Maurepas, French Settlement and Springfield.
Parrino is a retired school superintendent in Illinois and Tangipahoa Parish. Parrino, who lives in Springfield, said he did not know what role party played in his election.
He said his name may have carried some recognition from his time in the neighboring parish, where he served as superintendent in the early 1980s, according to The Advocate's records.
"I was lucky to win," Parrino said in an interview. "I felt that this is an office for the school board, and if someone recognized my name, because I have been in education a long time, I would get their vote."
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Richardson, who lives outside French Settlement, did not respond to requests for an interview. In a text message, Richardson wrote that he will support the new board member.
"He was victorious in 11 of 14 precincts. He also won the absentee vote. In other words, it was an old fashion whuppin'," Richardson wrote. "I will be standing in support of our new board member, and I ask all of those who supported my campaign do the same."
During the lead-up to the election, neither candidate did much in the way of campaigning.
"Never seen a sign. Never got a phone call. Nothing,” said Charlie Martin, a councilman and former mayor of Springfield. "My wife and I even talked about it."
But many people viewed Richardson as the favorite, since he was formerly the principal at French Settlement Elementary and Gray's Creek Elementary schools. He served on the Livingston Parish School Board since 2015.
During the past four years, he became known for being accessible, showing up at sporting events and implementing a distance-learning and media curriculum with the help of a $500,000 federal grant.
"I honestly thought he had it," said Toni Guitrau, mayor of French Settlement. "Because he's well known, and he's well known to be involved in education."
"As a board member, I was shocked," said Kellee Dickerson, the school board member who represents the Watson area. "I don't know of any tensions or anything like that in his area. That (party affiliation) is the only possible thing I could even imagine."
A similar party-affiliation dynamic could also have been at play in the Albany-area school board race.
In the matchup for the School Board District 9 seat, Devin Gregoire, a Republican, beat Bryan Neal, no party, with 54 percent of the vote.
Tab Lobell, who represents the Springfield area on the Parish Council but lives in School Board District 9, said he expected Neal to win the race. He said Neal had more name recognition, did more campaigning and posted signs with a photo of him and his family.
But Lobell said he fielded calls from three residents right around the election who wanted his opinion on the race, saying they were simply going to pull the Republican lever without more information.
"They didn't know either one of the guys, so they were just planning on pulling the lever," Lobell said.
Voters in Livingston Parish chose Republicans in nearly every race on Tuesday. In Denham Springs, voters selected five Republicans and rejected the lone Democrat running for city council. In the Secretary of State's Race, 87 percent of votes were cast for Republicans.
Couvillon said Livingston Parish's reddening landscape can be attributed to two major factors: One, Louisiana has generally become more right-leaning. Two, new residents are rapidly moving into Livingston Parish from Baton Rouge and New Orleans, even to the more rural areas. These residents are unfamiliar with politicians' histories and community ties, so they vote on party lines, he said.
Moreover, the high-turnout election on Tuesday brought occasional voters, who wanted to cast a ballot for Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, and selected the other Republicans they saw on the ballot, Couvillon said.
"None of this would matter if you had a 10 percent turnout election, if old-timers were the only voters," he said.
He pointed as a recent parallel to the election of Shane Mack, a Republican, to represent the Albany area on the parish council three years ago. Mack, the brother of Republican state Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany, defeated Democratic incumbent Delos Blackwell with 54 percent of the vote.
“The Republican Party label helped Shane Mack win that parish council seat, in addition to his hard work," Couvillon said.
Political strategist Bernie Pinsonat said some candidates want to run as "No Party," because they are telling voters that they are independent. But that is a risk now in many parts of Louisiana.
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"If you're not telling people why they should reelect you, and you're not doing a lot of campaigning or mailers, being a Republican is even more important," Pinsonat said.
He said the party-line voting began as a feature on national elections but has trickled down to school board and parish-level races.
Parrino said he is looking forward to serving on the school board. He believes that certifying teachers and providing an education to all children is important.
But Abby Crosby, of Frost, who has a child in the school system and another one entering soon, said she is concerned about the change in leadership. Richardson helped implemented a distance-learning initiative that has brought Spanish language classes to Frost School, for example, and she fears those programs could get lost.
"It was a shocker to a lot of people. No one has ever heard of the gentleman," Crosby said. "I think there is cause for concern."