Tarver, admittedly a Shreveport icon, has been a trailblazer for African-Americans in the political arena. He was a black candidate for elected office when blacks running for office wasn’t cool – to paraphrase an old country music song.
He burst upon the political scene in 1975 when he captured the District 5 seat on the former Caddo Parish Police Jury, which later became the Caddo Parish Commission.
In 1978, he was elected to the Shreveport City Council – just after it switched from the city commission system – and served until 1984.
Tarver was first elected to the Louisiana State Senate in 1983, defeating incumbent Bill Keith, a white Democrat. In the primary, Tarver got 44%, Keith 37% and Tom Loggins 19%.
Tarver squeaked out a victory in the runoff by a 51-49% margin. He had 9,264 votes and Keith had 8,769. Redistricting after the 1980 census had made Senate District 39 more conducive for a black candidate to win.
It did not take Tarver long to become a political power at the local and state levels. He was able to be in good favor with Democratic and Republican governors and he established the “Tarver Ballot,” whereby he recommended to black voters which candidate they should vote for.
He was unopposed in 1987 and 1991, but was challenged in 1995. He won in the primary with 56% of the vote. C.O. Simpkins had 28% and Michael R. Ward 16%.
Again in 1999, Tarver was unopposed for a fifth term. But in 2000, he was named as a defendant in the high-profile trial of former Gov. Edwin Edwards. Other defendants were Stephen Edwards, Andrew Martin, Ecotry Fuller, Bobby Johnson, and Cecil Johnson.
They were charged with extortion, wire fraud, money laundering, interstate travel and communication in aid of racketeering, false statements, illegal wiretapping, and RICO act violations to extort bribes in the awarding of riverboat gambling licenses.
All of the defendants were found guilty but Tarver and Fuller. Tarver served out the remainder of his Senate term, but did not run for re-election in 2003, ending a 20-year career in the state Senate.
That’s when Lydia Jackson stepped in and won the seat she currently holds. In the primary, she received 47% of the vote. Theron Jackson had 22%, Johnny Reid 13%, James Green 10%, and Jim Slagle 8%. Lydia beat Theron in the runoff 71-29% in the battle of the Jacksons (no relation).
Lydia Jackson had served one term in the Louisiana House of Representatives, elected in 1999 in House District 2, which had been held by Danny Mitchell for eight years. Mitchell did not run in 1999. Prior to that, Jackson was on the staff of Louisiana Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Lydia Jackson’s father, Alphonse Jackson, a trailblazer in his own right for African-Americans in civil rights and politics, served in the Louisiana House for 16 years, representing District 2, from 1972 to 1988.
Senate District 39 today
After the 1980 census, Senate District 39 became a majority black district for the first time, which allowed Greg Tarver to become the first black to represent the district.
He defeated incumbent Sen. Bill Keith, a white Democrat by a 51-49% margin. Tarver would hold the seat for 20 years and became the most powerful black politician in northwest Louisiana and one of the most influential in the state.
When Tarver did not run for re-election in 2003, many local politicos thought the Tarver days were over with Lydia Jackson winning the seat. Not much was heard from Tarver once he left public office.
But at age 65, Tarver is attempting a comeback. His challenge to Jackson sets up the premier election battle this fall for northwest Louisiana. It will certainly get statewide media attention as well.
There is no love lost between the Jacksons and the Tarvers, and this race will likely get contentious and personal. Some political observers insist that Tarver can’t beat Jackson; others say don’t count Tarver out.
Here are the current demographics for Senate District 39 following the recent redistricting, which has been approved by the U.S. Justice Department:
Total Population: 117,964. Total white: 34,150 (29%). Total black: 81,843 (69%). Total other races: 1,971 (2%).
Total Registered Voters: 68,308. Total white voters:20,157 (30%). Total black voters: 45,027 (67%). Total other race voters: 2,124 (3%).
Total Registered by Political Party: Of 68,308 registered voters, 44,725 (66%) are Democrats, 9,809 (14%) are Republicans, and 13,773 (20%) are No Party.
FaxNet Publisher’s Note: Some of the figures do not add up, but they are taken from the legislative plan that was passed. We will double check these figures once they are up on the Secretary of State’s website.
More about Senate 39
Senate District 39 includes a part of the city of Shreveport and most of northern Caddo Parish. It became a majority-black district after the 1980 census, and, at that time, was the only majority-black Senate district outside of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, remaining until 1991.
Geographically, the district is mostly rural, but population-wise, it’s another story. About two-thirds of the voters reside in the western part of the city of Shreveport and are nearly all black. The suburban fringe northwest of Shreveport near Cross Lake and the town of Blanchard make up about 20% of the voters and is about 25% black.
The remaining portion of the district between Blanchard and the Arkansas line is, indeed, rural and has about 10% of the district’s voters, of which about 20% are black.
The white vote, which is 30% in the district, will undoubtedly play a key role in the battle between state Sen. Lydia Jackson and former state Sen. Greg Tarver. The candidate that can capture the majority of that vote will likely win the election because some political analysts believe the two candidates will split the black vote.
Qualifying for this fall’s election is September 6-8. The primary election is October 22. Runoff elections, where needed, will be on November 19.
by Lou Gehrig Burnett, Publisher of Fax-Net
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