LAFAYETTE, La. — The race for mayor-president came down to turnout, and when the polls closed Saturday, it was city of Lafayette voters who cast the definitive ballots.
The election results reflected the findings identified in the poll released by News 15 three days before the election, which found that challenger Monique Blanco Boulet had a significant lead among people who said they were more likely to vote, while incumbent Josh Guillory led among those saying they weren’t as sure they would cast ballots.
Twenty years after her mother made history as the first woman to be elected governor of Louisiana, Blanco Boulet made her own mark as the first woman elected to lead Lafayette and the first challenger in decades to unseat an incumbent.
Guillory, who locked up local endorsements from other parish leaders as well as the local Republican Party, will exit as the first sitting mayor-president (or parish president) to lose a reelection bid at least since the first election for parish president was held in 1983.
“I used to think these jobs were very easy to keep. Just say the right stuff,” says former City-Parish President Joey Durel, who served three consecutive terms and is the last mayor-president to win a reelection bid in 2011.
“I told Monique she wasn’t going to win, when she first sat down with me, and I told the same thing to Jan [Swift],” he adds. “I said, ‘You realize [that] to unseat an incumbent is very, very difficult, no matter what. …The incumbency has huge advantages, so I wasn’t optimistic for either one of them.”
Blanco Boulet’s win also reflects a political moment Lafayette hasn’t fully seen since the 2018 Fix the Charter election, as voters in the city of Lafayette dominated Saturday’s results, strongly preferring Blanco Boulet over Guillory and vastly outvoting the rest of the parish.
Her victory Saturday saw voters in the city secure their choice on the parish as a whole, adding a new dynamic to longstanding debates about Lafayette’s consolidated government.
The Current estimates that voters in the city buoyed Blanco Boulet’s lead by 3,200 votes and accounted for 55.6% of parish-wide turnout, giving her a wide cushion over Guillory’s roughly 900-vote lead in the rest of the parish.
That’s a show of force the city of Lafayette hasn’t fully exercised since pushing the Fix the Charter initiative through in 2018, as mayor-president candidate Carlee Alm-LaBar won the city in 2019’s runoff against Guillory but fell short of carrying the parish as a whole, leading to further tension over the city’s lack of an independent mayor.
Blanco Boulet’s success in the city appeared to be rooted in swing voters from former candidate Jan Swift’s campaign, as she added some 5,600 votes to her October primary performance despite a nearly 20% drop in overall turnout. Guillory meanwhile found just 136 additional votes in the runoff.
Lower turnout in precincts Guillory won in October was perhaps the defining factor in Blanco Boulet’s runoff victory, as Guillory’s precincts had 27% fewer voters in November, compared to 12% fewer in precincts won by Blanco Boulet in October and 14% in those won by Swift.
It’s a factor that helps explain the disparity between Blanco Boulet’s victory and Alm-LaBar’s unsuccessful bid for the mayor-presidency in 2019, as lower turnout reduced Guillory’s lead in rural parts of the parish that favored him in both races.
Guillory overcame the city of Lafayette’s preference for Alm-LaBar in 2019 by winning the parish’s more rural precincts by hundreds of votes, but he only secured leads of a few dozen votes in many of those same areas against Blanco Boulet, whose staff credited a major effort to reach voters in those parts of the parish with taking away Guillory’s advantage there.