GONZALES — Ascension Parish Assessor Renee Mire Michel said Tuesday she could not yet bring herself to congratulate Assessor-elect M.J. “Mert” Smiley Jr. on his razor-thin primary victory because of what she said were the “dirty” politics Smiley used against her.
Michel said while she accepts the voters’ decision Saturday making Smiley the next assessor, she declined to open her office to Smiley to allow him to prepare for his new term.
“I really do because I honor what the people said, but ‘congratulations’ is a very, that’s a pretty powerful word, and right now I don’t feel like I can congratulate him because of how dirty his politics were. I just can’t do that,” she said.
Michel said she felt if she did congratulate Smiley, it would only serve to condone his political tactics, which she said were “below the belt” and attacked both her and her employees.
She said she has not called Smiley, though she was trying to find the words to do so. She said she may call him in a month or two.
Smiley responded Tuesday to Michel’s critical remarks by saying Michel’s campaign tactics were equally as rough as his own.
“I can tell you this: It was rough both ways,” Smiley said. “She did the same thing to me. It’s a shame that it had to come to that, but whenever you get into a campaign, a heated campaign, stuff like this happens. I think she was (as) equally below the belt as I was.”
Smiley said it is customary for the election loser to call the winner.
“As far as I am concerned, this campaign is over. It was a rough campaign,” Smiley said. “Politics in Louisiana is a tough business, and, like I said, if I would have ended up losing, I would have called that night and congratulated her, and that’s all I can say.”
Smiley defeated Michel, a two-term Democratic incumbent, by less than 1 percentage point, 50.31 percent to 49.69 percent. His margin of victory was 144 votes out of 23,328 votes cast, returns say.
Smiley is a two-term Republican state representative from St. Amant who decided not to seek a third term in the Legislature, instead choosing to run for assessor of Ascension Parish.
Election officials who opened voting machines Tuesday to re-count the Ascension Parish returns said they found no discrepancies.
Bridget Hanna, chief deputy parish clerk of court, said that the results reported Saturday would stand. Votes become official when they are promulgated by the secretary of state.
Michel cited ads and fliers late in the campaign, including one in which her face was distorted and others that distorted her pay and her office’s 2010 audit.
Michel attacked Smiley’s lack of experience as an assessor and his votes in the Legislature.
Under state law, Smiley does not take office as parish assessor until January 2013. Michel declared Tuesday that during the remainder of her term, she would not allow Smiley in her office to show him how it runs.
“Part of the reason I can’t let him in until I finish is I can’t let that energy into my office,” Michel said.