The dénouement of an 11-month race to choose a new state treasurer will come Saturday when Louisiana voters – though not many – will cast ballots.

Saturday’s runoff will decide who fills the last two years of the term of John N. Kennedy, who stepped down in January after being elected to the U.S. Senate. Secretary of State Tom Schedler and other election experts predict only 350,000 of the state’s 2.97 million will bother to participate. Republican former state Rep. John Schroder, of Covington, and Democratic New Orleans lawyer Derrick Edwards will be on the ballot in all 64 parishes.

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The only other high profile race on Saturday’s ballot is in Orleans Parish, where voters will decide whether New Orleans City Council member Latoya Cantrell or former municipal court Judge Desiree Charbonnet will be the first female mayor since the city’s founding almost 300 years ago.

As for the treasurer's race, federal rules aimed at reining in the power of Wall Street limited the campaign contributions of the investment houses and underwriting banks, hampering candidates from raising the money necessary to run a statewide race. That, coupled with the technocratic nature of the job itself, has left few voters interested in the outcome.

The strategy for both campaigns focuses on issues aimed at energizing their particular base of “chronic” voters, rather than talking about what a state treasurer does.

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Schroder’s best commercial features the lonely steps of a lawman, which he once was, on his way to halt the partying excesses of special interests.

Edwards recounts that his personal struggles with paralysis to gain a graduate degree in accounting that he argues qualifies him to become the first African American to be elected statewide in Louisiana.

When given advance questions about something the state treasurer actually does – regulate the state’s borrowing limits – Edwards did not respond to requests for an interview. “I will represent Louisiana with honesty, integrity and most importantly accountability and transparency,” Edwards says in his campaign ad.

Schroder told The Advocate he would not back increasing the state’s debt limit, which is now $225 million. The constitution requires that the debt service cost no more than 6 percent of total revenue from taxes, licenses and fees.

“We don’t need to be taking on more debt,” Schroder said. He opposes the alternative of raising more taxes, which would allow the state to seek more loans to pay for construction projects.

“Our bond rating is a reflection of our revenue and spending habits,” Schroder said. “If you’re going to correct our bond rating then you have to get your spending and revenue in check.”

But Schroder was less clear on how he would choose which infrastructure projects he would allow before the Bond Commission. The panel must approve the loans necessary to build roads, bridges, and other state construction projects, called capital outlay.

“It’s too early to tell what capital outlay projects I would oppose,” Schroder said.

To raise the money necessary, state and local governments sell bonds on Wall Street that are guaranteed to be repaid by the state. Louisiana has been flirting with not having enough revenue to set aside enough to repay the debt.

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Schroder, however, would push legislators to revamp the process that allows lawmakers to load the annual capital outlay bill with various projects, leaving the governor to decide which will proceed to the State Bond Commission for funding. As a state representative — he stepped down in June to run for state treasurer — Schroder backed unsuccessful legislative efforts to create a commission that would rank the construction requests based on what the state most needs.

Chairing the Bond Commission is one of the 30 legally-prescribed duties of the state treasurer.

Essentially, a treasurer acts as Louisiana’s banker, pooling the money that comes in from taxes and fees, policies over which he no official input, then writes the checks that pays the bills when told to by the heads of other agencies. When the money is not in use, a treasurer makes short-term investments, often for only a day or two, to raise a few extra bucks for the treasury.

Schroder sees himself as picking up the baton from Kennedy, who was treasurer for 16 years prior to winning the Senate election last December. Schroder has no immediate plans to replace any of the 50 staffers at the Treasury Department.

Henson, who was Kennedy’s top aide for nearly two decades, endorsed Schroder after the Oct. 14 primary election. “John Schroder has the governmental experience and temperament to continue the high level of integrity and public service demonstrated in the many years of Treasury administration under John Kennedy,” Henson said in his statement.

As a legislator, Schroder was the key sponsor of the 2016 resolution that established the blue-ribbon Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy panel to come up with ideas that strengthen the state financial structure. The proposals were widely praised but almost universally ignored during the 2017 legislative sessions. Schroder said he didn’t sponsor any of the proposals because he thought the committee focused too much on increasing revenues rather than cutting spending.

Schroder’s ads and rhetoric leans more on his work in the U.S. Army and as an Ascension Parish Sheriff’s deputy than it does on the quarter century he has spent developing and building residential properties on the fast growing north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

Edwards has a compelling story.

Playing football for John F. Kennedy High School, the 12th grader broke his neck in a collision with a player from St. Augustine High School during a game at Tad Gormley stadium in New Orleans City Park.

Paralyzed from the neck down, unable to use his arms and legs, doctors said he would need 24-hour care and pressed his mother, a school teacher, to institutionalize Edwards. She refused and stood on street corners soliciting money from passing motorists to help pay for the changes their home needed to accommodate a quadriplegic.

He graduated with his high school class, then went on to earn bachelor's and master’s degrees in accounting from Tulane University and a law degree from Loyola University.

“The story itself shows his tenacity to overcome things. You have to admire the man,” said Louis Reine, who heads the state AFL-CIO. The labor union endorsed Edwards after he led the field in the Oct. 14 primary to win a spot in the runoff.

Edwards, 45, last year was the first quadriplegic to run for the U.S. Senate. He came in eighth among 24 candidates, polling 51,774 votes out of 1.93 million cast.

One of the earliest to announce for treasurer, Edwards raised little money and did little campaigning.

The leadership of the state Democratic Party opted not to recommend endorsing him in the October primary. Party leaders voiced concern that Edwards had no discernible plan and had missed filing deadlines for disclosures required by the Louisiana Board of Ethics. The Ethics Board waived the $2,100 fine.

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Then Edwards rolled up 125,503 votes in the primary. Schroder had 96,440 votes. But 67 percent of the 401,499 ballots cast in October were for a Republican candidate.

Stephen Handwerk, director of the state Democratic Party, said Edwards is new to politics and his method of campaigning is unconventional by the standards of the party pros.

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“But Derrick has been doing the work, getting the endorsements, and campaigning effectively,” said Handwerk, which led to the party’s full-throated endorsement and help.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.

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