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  • Writer's pictureStaff @ LPR

HAYRIDE: A Lot Of Opposition Is Lining Up Against Robert Mills

Even a less-demonstrative legislator can’t return to office without putting up a fight if he isn’t part of the good-old-boy network in the Bossier Parish.

Last month, Republican state Sen. Robert Mills received a challenge from GOP School Board Member Adam Bass for his Senate District 36 spot. Mills joins Republican state Rep. Dodie Horton in drawing opposition, in her case from GOP businessman Chris Turner, while Republican state Rep. Alan Seabaugh is looking to make the jump to the state Senate seat shared by Caddo and Bossier Parishes, conceptually the same as that held by term-limited GOP state Sen. Barrow Peacock, and who faces opposition from retired basketball coach Mike McConathy from the GOP.

Horton drew the ire of the parish’s political establishment when she spearheaded efforts to bring accountability to the Cypress Black Bayou Water Conservation and Recreation District, while Seabaugh’s sin was to back insurgent candidates in Bossier City elections. Yet Mills, by contrast, has kept a low profile in parish politics, whose majority-Bossier district after reapportionment will shift more decisively into the parish for the next eight years.

The Bass candidacy seemed to come out of nowhere and may have been sparked by Mills joining a unanimous Senate in voting last month to bust the state’s spending cap, contrary to the wishes of the local House delegation also including Republican state Reps. Danny McCormick and Raymond Crews, who haven’t drawn any opponents publicly. But from there it seems to have been piled on by the parish political establishment, exacerbated by creating a more urban district based in Bossier City.

Partly this may echo from his win in 2019 when he defeated insider Republican incumbent Ryan Gatti who spent more than any legislative candidate in history to keep his job. Since then, he has done little to disappoint the majority of voters in his district, which perhaps is the most conservative in the state. According to the Louisiana Legislative Log voting scorecard, where 100 is considered a “perfect” conservative/reform record, Mills averaged 95 over the first three years of his term.

(And by virtue of his replacing Gatti, a trial lawyer staunchly opposed to genuine tort reform, he proved a crucial vote in passing modest reforms on that account.)

And while Mills hasn’t been as visible on high-profile issues as has Horton – whose recent bill to prevent school employees from psychological coaching of students about their gender identity inconsistent with state instructional standards and to protect school employees and students from confusion over pronoun use of students has been vetoed by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwardsbut which looks likely to survive by an override – or Seabaugh – who helped lead the charge for tort reform and helped to scuttle a higher sales tax – Mills has provided some leadership on tort reform and ballot security that made it into law as well as having passed several narrower bills.

Probably the most publicity Mills has received has come from his efforts for fair pricing on surface water sales, as recommended by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, where for the past couple of sessions he hasn’t been able to advance bills to do away with the artificially-low statutory cap on pricing in favor of a market-based determination (which could help Cypress Black Bayou out of its self-inflicted fiscal woes) and to open up a process that otherwise abets insider dealing. In trying to do this, business groups that almost always support Mills actually have opposed him while ideological groups that typically are horrified by his voting record have backed him.

Bass, his opponent whose only state campaign donation ever has been to Gatti(who has given his blessing to Bass’ candidacy), is serving his first full term on the School Board and is deeply embedded among the good old boys. He has been a key organizer of campaigns by GOP Bossier City Councilor David Montgomery, whose insider politics and free-spending ways increasingly have come under scrutiny. (Like Montgomery an insurance agent, unlike him at least Bass hasn’t reaped millions of taxpayer dollars from Bossier governments for writing their insurance policies.)

Even though he never has had to campaign on his own – he initially gained officewhen appointed to fill the place of Republican Mike Mosura upon his drug-related conviction, then ran unopposed last year – his experience campaigning for Montgomery city-wide should aid him with the somewhat-larger and overlapping, but more rural, Senate district. But Mills proved to be a formidable fundraiser and campaigner when he knocked off Gatti.

Not having been in office long, Bass also doesn’t have much of a record to vet. He managed to avoid going in on the enormous property tax hike the Board endorsed in 2019, despite already having one of the highest rates in the state, that voters decisively rejected, with his having won appointment a few months later. But he has been part of overseeing the District’s deteriorating finances that threaten significantly higher costs especially through 2029 that could send its cash balances into the red, as well as its nickel-and-diming other local governments over school security.

Although grumbling might arise about expansion of state spending he didn’t oppose, as with Horton and Seabaugh overall Mills has a voting record so congruent with district preferences that Bass can’t make the case that Mills isn’t serving its policy desires. Given his demonstrated campaign prowess, like them that also makes him a hard target to try to bring down although all will have to deal with significantly different district lines. Nevertheless, the establishment will try because it’s the establishment and if it doesn’t enforce discipline, much less fail to win too many elections for too long, it ceases to be the establishment.

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