The city-parish’s new, at-large judge seat for City Court saw three candidates qualify for it on Tuesday, as prospective public officials across East Baton Rouge Parish signed up to officially start their campaigns.
School Board Vice President Tarvald Smith, assistant city prosecutor Grant Miller and attorney Jeffrey Wittenbrink all signed up to run for the city-wide election for City Court judge.
Smith, a Democrat, has been an attorney for 19 years. He said his school board experience has prepared him to help people and treat them fairly, which he also sees as duties for the City Court judges.
“I felt City Court was a great opportunity for me to do public service for the community and continue my legal career,” Smith said.
Miller, a Republican, has spent seven years working for the city’s prosecutor’s office, and said colleagues pushed him to run for the seat. He said his experience practicing in City Court makes him intimately familiar with its workings.
“I feel like I can jump in there immediately without much of a learning curve,” he said.
Wittenbrink, also a Republican, did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
The East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff, coroner, clerk of court and assessor all qualified for re-election on Tuesday and by the end of the day did not pick up any opposition.
In interviews, Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, Coroner Beau Clark, Clerk of Court Doug Welborn and Assessor Brian Wilson all said they are passionate about their jobs and hope to keep them. The candidates, who are all Republicans, each said they are uncertain if anyone else will jump into their races.
This would be Gautreaux’s third term as sheriff, a job that he calls his lifetime ambition and goal. He said he is most proud of improving pay for deputies and increasing the number of them during his time in office. With an upcoming term, he said he hopes to make progress on a campaign to fix the parish prison and find a new home for mentally ill people that is not behind bars. Gautreaux backed a tax proposal earlier this year that would have built a new parish prison, mental health center and other infrastructure improvements but was defeated by the Metro Council.
He said it is rare for a sheriff to run unopposed and that he is prepared to run a campaign if another person enters the race. Still, he is confident about his chances.
“If I was running against me, I would have been out there last year,” he said.
Clark is the novice of the group, running for his second term as coroner. The Baton Rouge physician has made the Coroner’s Office more visible over the past few years.
During his first term, Clark revamped the city’s death investigations and expanded autopsies so neighboring parishes could make use of East Baton Rouge’s autopsy resources. He said a big part of his job is identifying trends and warning the public about them — such as deaths from heroin and synthetic marijuana being on the rise, over which he has sounded warning bells.
Clark said he hopes to focus on improving care for sexual assault victims and mental health patients in the future.
“Some of the goals I had in mind still have to be completed,” he said about running for a second term in office.
Welborn has been the city-parish’s clerk of court for 24 years and is running for his seventh term.
“It doesn’t seem like that though; where has the time gone?” Welborn asked.
He has run unopposed in nearly all of his past clerk of court elections.
Welborn said he likes the job because he cannot predict what will happen on a daily basis. He said the office is working to digitize many of its documents, which would make them available for anyone in the state on a personal computer.
The clerk’s office took some heat earlier this year when it did not immediately issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled gay marriage lawful. Welborn said he does not expect it to affect his re-election bid, and added “the law as it’s written is what we’re directed to follow.”
Wilson has been the city-parish’s assessor since 2002 and is running for his fourth term on the job. Before being elected assessor, he worked in the Assessor’s Office for many years.
Wilson said he has stayed with the Assessor’s Office for so long because he enjoys meeting with property owners. He said he is already focused on reassessing property values next year.
“It’s something that’s in my blood now,” he said about what draws him to the job.