Call it a comeback season, or maybe just the year of the retread. Whatever label you choose, the just-completed sign-up list in this fall’s local elections makes one thing clear: Old politicians don’t fade away. They just sign up to run again.
Last week’s three-day qualifying period offered few surprises at the top of the ticket. All the major players expected to sign up for marquee races for governor, lieutenant governor and other statewide offices did so, and there were few unexpected entrants of note.
Down ballot, it’s another story.
Historically, the Legislature has often functioned as an entry-level perch for ambitious politicians. Among those who got their start at the Capitol are both the state’s U.S. senators, David Vitter and Bill Cassidy, and two of its congressmen, Steve Scalise and Cedric Richmond. Former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu won a House election soon after graduating from LSU. When she moved up to state treasurer, her younger brother Mitch, who’d later be elected lieutenant governor and New Orleans mayor, took the seat.
This year, though, legislative races across the state will offer an embarrassment of interesting match-ups featuring recognizable names — some who have already made it to higher office, many who haven’t and even one who, well, went away for a while. That would be former state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, of Marrero, who pleaded guilty to a money laundering charge in 2008 and who signed up to challenge incumbent Ebony Woodruff for his onetime House seat. Technically, convicted felons can’t run for state office for 15 years, but Shepherd has said he doesn’t think the law is constitutional. So good luck to him on that, I guess.
Also seeking a big-time comeback is “Kissing Congressman” Vance McAllister, who beat the GOP’s favored candidate in 2013 only to go down in flames after he was caught on tape in a lip-lock with an aide (both were married to other people).
McAllister, who ignored calls from fellow Republicans to resign when the scandal broke, lost his 2014 re-election bid and is now challenging a member of the Republican establishment that never accepted him, state Sen. Mike Walsworth, of West Monroe.
Back in the New Orleans area, state Sen. David Heitmeier’s surprise retirement cleared the way for a slew of well-known West Bank candidates. Term-limited state Rep. Jeff Arnold signed up, along with Orleans Parish School Board member Leslie Ellison, former New Orleans City Councilman Troy Carter and civic leader Roy Glapion. Lourdes Moran, whom Ellison beat in the last School Board race, qualified for the House seat Arnold is vacating.
In Metairie, state Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel drew a surprise challenge from former state Rep. John LaBruzzo, who announced his plan to make the race a referendum on Appel’s advocacy for the controversial Common Core education standards. Complicating this race is the last-minute entry of former Jefferson Parish School Board member Polly Thomas, a retired UNO education professor who surely has plenty of ideas on the topic as well.
Up in Shreveport, meanwhile, Cedric Glover is looking to return to his old House post after a long run as the city’s mayor. In Baton Rouge, a couple of onetime Metro Council members, Ulysses “Bones” Addison and Byron Sharper, also qualified for open seats.
Some politicians of old are hoping to stick closer to home and fill local offices, just like they used to.
In Jefferson Parish, at-large Councilman Chris Roberts drew challenges from two former councilmen, Jimmy Lawson and Louis Congemi. Congemi also served as Kenner mayor. In contrast, district Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng walked right into the other at-large seat without attracting an opponent.
And St. Bernard’s colorful former President Junior Rodriguez — the guy who once alarmed the Secret Service when he goosed President George W. Bush with his cane — qualified for clerk of court against incumbent Randy Nunez.
But none of these other politicians have as far to come back as Shepherd, an outspoken, one-time rising star. In announcing his run, he framed it as a quest for redemption.
“My campaign will offer hope to many citizens who have made a mistake that they too can receive a second chance in life,” Shepherd said in a written statement.
But Shepherd also hinted that his motives aren’t purely high-minded — that perhaps he’d also enjoy reliving the days when he was best known for trying to outlaw baggy pants, not for participating in a complicated financial scam.
“Since leaving office Derrick has tirelessly worked in the Marrero and Harvey communities to mentor young African-American men,” his news release said. And, in case anyone has forgotten, “Derrick was the author of the ‘Pull Up Your Pants’ legislation.”