20110914-cover-0107ELBERT V. THE MACHINE REDUX
State Sen. Elbert Guillory dealt a blow to the Cravins dynasty in 2009, but the patriarch is back with a vengeance.

Elbert Guillory took on the Cravins machine in 2009 and dismantled it. But this time around, with new district lines that could favor his opponent, Guillory may have a much tougher battle on his hands.

Former state Sen. Don Cravins Sr., now the mayor of Opelousas, is challenging Guillory for his old seat in the Legislature — a seat that changed substantially with legislative redistricting after the 2010 Census. With Guillory closely involved in the redrawing, District 24 lost some of its St. Landry Parish territory and shifted into northeastern Lafayette Parish, including Carencro, and St. Martin parish, taking in the western part of Breaux Bridge.

UL Lafayette Political Science Professor Pearson Cross believes the inclusion of north Lafayette may benefit Cravins. “If it were in the previous district, as I understand it, the favorite in the race would be the incumbent. But the district has been expanded south into northern Lafayette where I think Cravins is somewhat more popular.”

The district, however, has also taken in Port Barre, Melville and Leonville, along with more of Guillory’s home base of Lawtell, as well as Lewisburg. He’s likely to run strong in those areas and among whites, who constitute about 45 percent of District 24. Guillory has aligned himself with the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative religious group with growing influence in state politics. “That is really going to be the question, in terms of the vote breaking down: Are white voters going to be more likely to support Guillory because of his association with Louisiana Family Forum?” asks Cross.

The UL prof stresses that it’s too soon to identify a frontrunner in this Dem v Dem battle. “Right now it’s hard to say who the favorite in it is. The similarities between the two candidates are definitely striking in the sense that they are both African-American gentlemen in their 60s with quite of bit of political experience under their belts who have won election to that same Senate seat before.”

Cravins was replaced in the Senate by his son, Don Cravins Jr., in 2006 after the elder Cravins was elected mayor of Opelousas. When Cravins Jr. resigned three years later to accept a position with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in D.C., his mother and Cravins Sr.’s wife, Patricia, vied to keep the seat in the family. She was soundly defeated in a 2009 runoff by Guillory, who got 62 percent of the vote.

The longshot in the race, Kelly Scott, who also ran in the 2009 primary, could send Guillory and Cravins into a runoff if he pulls enough votes to deny one of them 50 percent of the vote.

Regardless of what Cravins might say are his reasons for running — he did not return a phone call seeking comment — he no doubt has a score to settle with Guillory, who teamed up with the mayor’s political enemies earlier this year to appoint themselves to a task force to review blistering state legislative audits of the Opelousas Housing Authority, where Cravins wielded significant influence before the FBI started investigating, and the city of Opelousas. The latter was particularly critical of how Cravins runs the city — payroll fraud by a department director, bid law violations, free rent of public buildings for city employees, poor controls, no controls — and his foes pounced on him when it was released in early August.

Never one to back down, Cravins is fighting back. “This race is going to be a real tightly fought, barn-burner type race,” Cross says. — LT

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