GONZALES — Four men qualified Tuesday to be the next Ascension Parish president as incumbents in other parish seats also signed up to seek another four years in office.
Among incumbents qualifying Tuesday without opponents for the Oct. 24 primary so far were Sheriff Jeff Wiley, Coroner Dr. John Fraiche, Assessor M.J. “Mert” Smiley Jr. and state Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales.
Candidates have until Thursday to sign up to run for office.
Republicans Clint Cointment, Chris Loar and Kenny Matassa and Democrat Clarence Henry Jr. qualified for the race to replace four-term Parish President Tommy Martinez.
Cointment, Matassa and Loar have been campaigning for months to a few years with a fiscally conservative message and their appearance on the ballot has been expected.
Henry, 71, a retired businessman and construction worker from Donaldsonville, is a relatively new addition to the race as signs for him began appearing in the Donaldsonville area only a few weeks ago.
Henry said Tuesday that he is running to improve the quality of life for residents on the west bank of the parish and believes current leaders haven’t given that side of the Mississippi River its fair share.
“I feel if people are wanting a change, I feel I would be the right person,” Henry said.
Henry isn’t the only candidate campaigning for change after eight years under Martinez and a council that has not had a lot of turnover in the past eight years.
Cointment has been campaigning for more then two years and taken a decidedly populist tack, promising to be a transparent man of the people who will break with the old way of doing business.
He said Ascension is a large, diverse parish that has several communities within it that need to be reached by candidates.
“We all know this is going to be a good tight race,” he said.
Loar has campaigned on his business and administrative savvy that he says will allow his administration to dedicate more money to infrastructure without new taxes.
“I look forward to bringing people together and working towards building a stronger foundation for the future of our community,” he said in a statement. “I will use my business and technology background to develop innovative solutions to the tough problems Ascension Parish faces as it continues to grow.”
Matassa filed his campaign papers just days after his son Nick was badly burned in a plant explosion late Thursday in Geismar. Matassa, a longtime parish government employee and Gonzales city councilman and former Democrat, has been running on his experience in parish government and pro-business approach that would clear parish red tape for good economic development projects.
Roy Fletcher, Matassa’s campaign consultant, said Matassa plans to continue with the race despite his son’s injuries.
“We’re going to run an aggressive campaign. It’s a tough situation, but Kenny is going to fulfill both the responsibilities as a parent and a candidate. That’s what we intend to do,” Fletcher said.
In qualifying for other parishwide seats, Bridget Hanna, longtime chief deputy and current interim clerk of court, qualified to fill the remainder of Kermit “Hart” Bourque’s term and to be the next clerk of court once that term ends. Bourque retired in February for health reasons. His term ends June 30.
Elections to fill Bourque’s term and to win the next four-year term are on the Oct. 24 ballot.
For the 11-member Parish Council, incumbents Oliver Joseph, Travis Turner, Dempsey Lambert, Todd Lambert and Randy Clouatre qualified Tuesday without drawing opponents so far.
One-term Councilman Bryan Melancon drew opposition from John Cagnolatti, a former one-term Gonzales city councilman and city police and fire civil service commissioner. Both men are Republicans.
Newcomer Sean Dardeau, a Republican, has qualified for the Dutchtown-area District 8 council seat that is now held by Republican Councilwoman Teri Casso. Casso did not qualify on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, three qualified for Loar’s open District 7 council seat in Prairieville. They are Mac “Rooster Lips” Edmonston, Ken Firmin and Aaron Lawler. More candidates are expected.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.