Three familiar faces on the St. Charles Parish political scene, as well as a longtime law enforcement officer, are vying in Saturday’s primary to succeed two-term Parish President V.J. St. Pierre Jr., who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election.
If none of the four wins a majority, the top two finishers will square off in a runoff Nov. 21.
The candidates aren’t proposing any major changes in how the parish is run; rather, each highlights smaller and mostly similar priorities, including fighting for federal and state levee funds, preventing major flood insurance rate hikes and improving drainage.
To distinguish themselves from one another, each speaks of specific job skills and personal traits that they say make them best suited for the top parish post.
The field includes two-term Parish Council members Larry Cochran, D-St. Rose, and Carolyn Schexnaydre, R-Destrehan; former Councilman Terry Authement, R-Boutte; and retired Sheriff’s Office administrator and State Police Maj. John Cornwell, D-Luling.
Cochran highlights his leadership skills, while Schexnaydre points to her honesty and integrity.
Authement says his three terms on the council, combined with his background managing industrial plants, make him the most experienced candidate. Cornwell, the only contender who hasn’t served on the council, touts himself as the only “non-politician in the race.” But he says a lifetime of managing law enforcement departments has better prepared him for the parish presidency, an executive post, than any of his opponents’ legislative experience.
Authement, 63, said his three council terms and his 33-year career at Monsanto, where he supervised maintenance until his 2007 retirement, make him “the most experienced candidate in the race, both in terms of public service experience and work experience.”
“Business and industry are our big taxpayers in this parish, and they play an important role,” he said. “We need to keep on building on our relationship with them and work on their investment and growth in our parish.”
The parish president, he said, must be an advocate for industry, reminding the community of the value that such businesses bring. “We need to build a trust so they know, when there is a need, that we have their best interests in mind,” he said.
Like the other candidates in the race, Authement expects some turbulent times ahead.
“St. Charles is known as a parish of plenty, but we have a lot of challenges ahead of us with everything facing us in terms of hurricane protection and the Biggert-Waters Act,” he said.
That 2012 law was designed to shore up the national flood insurance program, which has been in debt since Hurricane Katrina. Last year, Congress passed a law limiting some of the increases in rates it envisioned.
In St. Charles, where about 45 percent of the parish isn’t protected by federal levees, Authement said, “We need to do everything we can to mitigate or even reverse some of those changes.”
He said it’s important to secure federal levees to protect all the parish’s residents. To do that, he said, it is critical to “build our parish’s relationship with our state and federal representatives to legislate crucial funding for our levee needs.”
Cochran, 53, touts his leadership skills gained as current council chairman and as the chief of the St. Rose Volunteer Fire Department for 17 years.
“With my experience as an elected official and as a fire volunteer and a recreation volunteer, I have shown I can bring people together to work out exceptional solutions to diverse problems,” he said. “I have the ability to listen with an open mind. And while I don’t have all the answers, I am not afraid to ask others.”
Like his fellow candidates, Cochran said St. Charles Parish faces “some very complex issues,” among them establishing a better drainage system and stronger hurricane protection levees, along with the ongoing fight against flood insurance rate increases.
“I already have been involved in all of that, and so I can help keep that work going,” he said.
Overall, he said, he has what it takes “to continue moving the parish forward.”
He promised to have an “open-door policy so everyone in this parish will be able to speak with the parish president” and to work to bring higher-paying jobs to the parish, as well as lower sewer and water rates.
Cornwell, 67, retired in June 2014 from the Sheriff’s Office and didn’t have plans to run for election. He never has sought office before.
“But the job kind of came looking for me,” Cornwell said. “I have invested a lot of time and service in the community, and with my education, with a degree in sociology and a master’s in business, I have honed critical-thinking skills that will help me in the position.
“I have 40 years in law enforcement, but that doesn’t mean they will get a policeman in office. I will just be protecting and serving in other ways, whether that is fighting for the levees or other issues.”
His background, he said, “gives me an intimate understanding of what is needed to run this parish.”
Cornwell said his lack of political experience will serve St. Charles well.
“Since I’m not a politician, I will be asking the questions that the citizens have asked,” he said.
“I will ask, ‘Why are we doing things this way?’ And I think that will lead to some positive changes.
“I know how to solve problems, as I’ve been doing that my whole career.”
While Schexnaydre, 62, has served two terms on the Parish Council, she said that doesn’t make her a politician per se. She said she has “always taken the politics out of my votes and the decisions.”
“I promised when I ran eight years ago that I would have honesty, integrity and openness in office, and I have fulfilled that,” she said. “I don’t make false promises. And I always put the parish’s needs before my wants and desires.”
During her two terms as at-large councilwoman, she said, she “saved millions on parish contracts” because she is “not controlled by any outside interests.“I don’t owe contractors or engineers nothing. I’m a fighter and I stand up for my principles and I make no compromises.”
She said one of her top priorities will be “making sure the money we now will have coming in for the levees is spent wisely — on the levees, and not on engineers and contractors.”
In May, St. Charles voters overwhelmingly approved a 4-mill, 30-year property tax that will raise $4.8 million annually for flood protection projects.
That money, combined with federal and state grants it is expected to leverage, will help to complete projects to protect the parish from a so-called 100-year storm — a hurricane with a 1 percent chance of occurring each year.
“I believe in working for the whole parish,” Schexnaydre said. “There is not an east bank or a west bank; there is just one parish, and I can relate to its people. I have the patience to listen and the experience to bring people together to fix problems.”