The four St. Tammany Parish residents running in the Oct. 14 election to replace John Schroder in the state House seat from District 77 are all offering themselves as agents of change, eager to fix the state's broken fiscal policy and to make sure the district's needs for roads and drainage are met.
But the candidates bring differing perspectives and resumés to the race, which predictably has three Republicans — Rob Maness, Casey Revere and Mark Wright — but also a candidate with no party affiliation who until recently was registered as a Democrat, Lisa Condrey Ward.
Wright is serving his second term on the Covington City Council. Revere is a justice of the peace. Maness has been on the Republican Party Executive Committee and has twice run for the U.S. Senate. Ward is making her first bid for office.
The Covington-based district includes much of western St. Tammany, also including Madisonville and parts of Folsom.
Schroder's unexpired term ends in January 2020.
Wright, 47, who is term-limited on the Covington council, had long planned to run for the House seat when Schroder's term ended. But when the legislator resigned in June to run for state treasurer, Wright's time frame was accelerated. He said he has learned much on the City Council about parish and state as well as city issues and feels he can play a valuable role as a state lawmaker.
Revere, 27, said he got into politics to work for change and to help people not satisfied with politics, and he sees the Legislature as a better place to do that than presiding over small claims and evictions as a justice of the peace. An open seat is rare, he said, so he considered the race an opportunity. "There's no incumbent in the seat, so there is no better time than now," he said.
Maness, 55, said that even though he did not win a seat in the U.S. Senate, most recently losing to Sen. John Kennedy, he has been assessing other political opportunities as they come up. His recent experience working for bills in the Legislature on behalf of a citizens group called the Louisiana Power Coalition factored into his decision to run. "It looks like this is the right seat to put me back in public service," he said.
Ward, 55, a lawyer who restored and owns the Southern Hotel in downtown Covington, said she's heavily invested in the community and has been discouraged that the state seems to "aspire to mediocrity at best." Young people like her sons and their friends don't see a future here, she said. "You can't keep complaining if you're not willing to put forward the business skills, negotiating skills and leadership skills that we need," she said.
Campaign finance reports filed a week ago show Maness began the filing period with $84,342 in cash and in-kind contributions, but that included $65,200 he loaned himself. Wright began the period with $70,573, reflecting $63,000 in cash donations or in-kind contributions and a $7,500 loan.
Ward had the third largest campaign fund at the start of the reporting period with $40,655, which included nearly $12,000 in loans she made to her campaign. Revere began with $12,795 in cash and in-kind contributions and had made no loans to his campaign.
Maness, who is married with five children, retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 2011 and went to work for Entergy. His cites his military background as providing leadership and collaboration skills that would make him an effective legislator.
His undergraduate degree from the University of Tampa was in information systems, and he has three master's degrees, one in public administration from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
As a lawmaker, Maness said, his initial focus would be tax policy reform to make Louisiana attractive to business and create more jobs. He wants to reduce or eliminate the corporate income tax and to reform the inventory tax and the way sales taxes are collected. His aim is to provide businesses more predictability. He also wants to end lawsuit abuse.
Revere, a resident of Madisonville, has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Southeastern Louisiana University and worked for the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office in corrections before going to work for the parish as a security installation technician. He was elected a justice of the peace in 2014.
Revere said his youth, energy and new ideas are assets. While Louisiana has a reputation for bad politics, he is running to represent the people and not big donors, he said.
He promises to focus on the district's infrastructure needs, and his top priority would be ensuring the Interstate 12 widening project is completed. While it will be hard to accomplish budget reform, he said, the proliferation of dedicated funds in the state budget has to be addressed. He wants to consider means-testing for the TOPS program and to continue criminal justice reform.
Ward, who is married with three adult sons, grew up in northern Louisiana and got her undergraduate degree from LSU in political science and her law degree from Tulane. As a business owner, she said, she knows the direct impact that government policies have on businesses.
"Some are very helpful; some are job killers. Certain taxes, inventory taxes — not one business owner will have anything good to say about that tax," she said.
Her priority as a lawmaker would be dealing with the state's budget shortfall and righting Louisiana's finances, beginning with tax reform. Louisiana needs to address outdated policies and look to states like Texas that "dream bigger," she said. She wants Louisiana to plan for the future in infrastructure and have an objective matrix for deciding what projects should be done.
Wright, married with five children, works in the tugboat and barge industry as vice president of the American Waterways Operators trade association, managing the southern region. His job has put him in the center of Louisiana's economy, he said.
He received his undergraduate degree from Xavier University and a master's in business administration from the University of Dallas and is a candidate for a doctorate of business administration in strategic information from the University of South Alabama.
Wright's top priorities would be jobs, roads and the state budget, he said. He thinks the state's highway department needs an overhaul. He pointed to Exxon's decision to leave Louisiana for a better business climate as a strong message that the state needs to address lawsuit abuse, workforce development and the tax code.
This story was altered on Sept. 25 to reflect that John Schroder's unexpired term ends in January 2020 and that Rob Maness has three master's degrees.