Ex-Jefferson Assessor Lawrence Chehardy named to chair state Tax Commission after endorsing John Bel Edwards in governor’s race _lowres

Former longtime Jefferson Parish Assessor Lawrence Chehardy, left, answers a question Monday in the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee about Sen. John Alario, Jr.'s, D-Westwego, center, bill in 2009. LaFourche Parish Assessor Michael Martin, right, was also on hand to answer questions. (Advocate Staff Photo by Heather McClelland)

Crossing party lines last fall worked out for Lawrence E. Chehardy, the former longtime Jefferson Parish tax assessor.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday that he has appointed Chehardy, 63, to the Louisiana Tax Commission. Chehardy endorsed Edwards over U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a fellow Metairie Republican, in the gubernatorial race.

Chehardy, a lawyer, will serve as chairman of the agency that reviews appeals of decisions made by tax assessors across the state. He also will represent a commission district encompassing Jefferson, Ascension, Livingston, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes, Edwards said.

For about 35 years after his first election in 1975 to succeed his father as Jefferson assessor, Chehardy championed the importance of preserving Louisiana’s homestead exemption, which protects residents from paying most local taxes on the first $75,000 of their home’s value. He even lobbied for the exemption to be raised before surprisingly stepping down at the end of 2010. He was succeeded by Tom Capella, who is now in his second term as the parish’s assessor.

One person who years ago disagreed with Chehardy on that issue was Vitter, who at the time was running for a U.S. House seat he ultimately won before becoming a senator. Vitter warned that increasing the homestead exemption would burden small businesses with higher tax bills.

Chehardy repeatedly criticized Vitter during the latter’s race against Edwards, writing on his blog in late October that the senator’s campaign amounted to a series of “scare tactics” and “veiled racist attack spots.”

He followed that up with a piece in mid-November that declared Edwards was “the right choice for governor” over Vitter, alluding to the prostitution scandal to which the senator was first linked in 2007 and that re-emerged as an issue in the gubernatorial campaign.

Shortly after Edwards’ victory Nov. 21, he named Chehardy to a committee advising the governor-elect on budgetary issues before he took office. Edwards’ administration is facing a total budget deficit of about $3 billion for the rest of this fiscal year and the year that starts July 1.

Chehardy said Monday there “absolutely was not” any arrangement or expectation that he’d land the commission appointment in exchange for endorsing Edwards, who was sworn in to replace Gov. Bobby Jindal on Jan. 11. He said his new role is simply “the next step up” from a job he performed for more than three decades in Jefferson.

Before Chehardy’s long tenure as Jefferson assessor, his father, Lawrence A. Chehardy, held that job for about a decade, becoming perhaps the most powerful elected official in the parish. The elder Chehardy essentially bequeathed the job to his son by signing up for re-election, drawing no opponents, and then withdrawing after the younger Chehardy entered the race minutes before the qualifying period expired.

Lawrence E. Chehardy also proved popular, being re-elected four times without opposition and winning at least 59 percent of the vote when he was challenged. He announced in a June 2010 news release that he would retire at the end of the year.

Though 2010 saw a number of high-profile Jefferson officials, including then-parish President Aaron Broussard, resign in the wake of a corruption scandal that eventually sent Broussard to federal prison, Chehardy at the time denied that his departure had anything to do with that.

Chehardy said Monday that his retirement was a personal decision motivated by a desire to focus on his private law practice and give someone else a chance at a rewarding job.

“It was time to move on,” he said.

The Edwards administration could not immediately provide information about what Chehardy’s salary as commission chairman will be.