Back in the day, Tom Schedler and Jim Tucker worked as co-chairmen of the state Legislature’s Republican Caucus for about three years, often teaming up and making announcements together.
Fast-forward four years and Tucker, now the speaker of the Louisiana House, is running for secretary of state against Schedler, who was the first assistant and took over the job last year when Jay Dardenne was elected lieutenant governor.
The Secretary of State’s Office oversees elections, state archives, corporate filings and several museums throughout the state.
Tucker, 47, said he wants to bring more innovation to the office, instead of just having someone manage it.
“It’s the caretaker versus the opportunistic efforts I want to pursue,” Tucker said.
Schedler, 61, said the Secretary of State’s Office has come a long way in one year by eliminating many pointless special elections, registering more voters, making more information available online and streamlining the filing process for starting a new business — via the website http://www.GeauxBiz.com — all while dealing with state budget cuts.
Voters can now use a brand-new smartphone app —“GeauxVote Mobile” — to find out voter and ballot information, he said.
Schedler alleges Tucker has made the race personal.
When Schedler took over the job last year, he said Tucker congratulated him.
After Tucker decided against seeking a state Senate seat, Schedler said Tucker asked him not to run and serve as Tucker’s first assistant in the Secretary of State’s Office.
“That really set me off,” Schedler said. “He insulted me and it became pretty personal to me.”
“No, I don’t recall it that way,” Tucker said.
Schedler said Tucker only sees the job as a steppingstone — “where he can hang his hat for four years.”
Tucker said Schedler is trying to distract from the issues.
“It’s just a lot of smokescreen because he thought he would just inherit the office and he’s not going to,” Tucker said.
The two Republicans both admit to having fundraising problems in a down economy. They have similar political views and hail from the New Orleans region — Schedler from Mandeville, Tucker from Terrytown.
Tucker reported nearly $700,000 in the bank on Sept. 22, including a $500,000 personal loan.
Schedler reported more than $360,000, which included $200,000 of his own money.
Tucker began airing his first television commercial this past weekend, which touts him as a family man who pushed legislative reforms to help small businesses.
Schedler said his commercial will begin airing in a few days.
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter is backing Tucker, and Gov. Bobby Jindal has not weighed in.
Both Schedler and Tucker said they will be centrist and nonpartisan in the job.
Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, a nonprofit governmental research association, said the secretary of state’s race is an important one that, fortunately, was not predetermined in a “smoky backroom.”
“It (the office) has more responsibility than most people realize,” Scott said. “It’s also a good training ground for building administrative experience.”
Tucker said he was disappointed to see Schedler cut the hours of operations at multiple state museums to offset a state budget cut of more than $800,000 in an $81 million total budget, rather than look at employee restructuring.
“He (Schedler) says he can only do with what the Legislature and the (Jindal) administration gives him,” Tucker said. “He’s not been real aggressive in reorganizing and reducing the size of the operation.”
As a businessman and apartment complex developer, Tucker said he has the acumen to make strategic cuts and restore museum operations.
“The apartment business is a nickel and dime business,” Tucker said.
Schedler said his hand was forced with the museums by budget cuts because 92 percent of his budget is tied to elections.
“Where was he (Tucker) four months ago when I was looking at him at the podium telling him I was going to have to close museums?” Schedler said. “I can’t print money.”
Another issue often discussed is whether to merge the Secretary of State’s museums with those managed by the lieutenant governor.
Schedler said the Legislature will have the final say on merging museums. He said he has not proposed a merger because many of the local communities statewide fear having their museums and attractions lumped in with the larger New Orleans ones managed by the lieutenant governor. That fear is why they first splintered off many years ago, he said.
Tucker said he has not taken a stance on the issue.
“I’m in favor of the evaluation,” he said.
Hitting each other’s records, Schedler has pounded on Tucker for pushing for legislative pay raises in 2008 that were ultimately vetoed by Jindal.
Tucker said he had planned to donate any pay hike to charities.
Tucker has pointed out that Schedler benefited from having two homestead exemption tax breaks — only one is legally allowed — from 2004 through 2006.
Schedler responded that the St. Tammany Parish Assessor’s Office admitted fault, and he repaid the money.
Schedler said from 2005 to the end of 2010 Louisiana had 70 elections, nearly twice as many as any other Southern state. More than 30 were unnecessary special elections for one or two ballot measures, he said, and now state law has corrected the problem.
Louisiana is fourth nationally in voter registration, but 37th in voter participation. Tucker said he wants to do more to push voter turnout, including reaching out more to young voters.
Tucker said he will link the Secretary of State’s corporate filings aspects online with the state Department of Economic Development in a way that new business owners can quickly learn what tax credits and other benefits they can receive.
Schedler said he wants to partner with the Louisiana Workforce Commission and the state Department of Revenue to remove much of the duplicative paperwork and red tape needed to start new businesses.
Doing so will require more funding on the front end to save more long term, Schedler said.
“But at the end, it’s going to be fabulous for business,” he said.