Two political newcomers and a third candidate who lost in a close runoff race four years ago for St. James Parish president are running for the office in the Oct. 12 election.
It's an open field for candidates Brandon Keller, Wanda Pierre and Pete Dufresne, all Democrats, who won't be facing an incumbent, with Parish President Timmy Roussel's decision not to run for a third term.
"For 29 years of public service, my wife and family totally supported me," said Roussel, who was also previously a parish and town councilman. "Now it's time for me to support them and spend more time with them."
In July, a state appellate panel threw out a nearly three-year-old corruption indictment against Roussel. The court said prosecutors may have improperly influenced a grand jury and witnesses who appeared before it.
All three candidates looking to be the next parish president cite a need for improved infrastructure in a parish with a growing industrial presence, along with diversification of the economy.
Pete Dufresne, a sugar cane farmer and owner of a trucking company, ran against Roussel in fall 2015 in an election that led to a runoff that Dufresne lost by 394 votes.
"I was very proud" of that close race, Dufresne said.
He said he has wanted for many years to follow the example of public service set by his grandfather Ellis Bourgeois, a former St. James Parish assessor.
"He was an inspiration to serve and do good for people," said Dufresne, who served for many years on the St. James Parish Planning Commission, is president of the East St. James Parish Farm Bureau and formerly chaired the state legislative committee of the American Sugar Cane League.
"I feel that everything I've done in all my life experiences parallels what a good parish president should be," he said.
"It is time for us to make those industrial partnerships (in the parish) work for our people, bringing necessary money to the table for projects like drainage, infrastructure and flood protection," he said.
The parish also needs to protect its environment and create new business opportunities, Dufresne said.
Keller, a deputy assessor in the St. James Parish Assessor's Office, who previously served as the public information officer for the parish, said he entered the parish president race "to move the parish into the future."
Keller said his roles with parish government have given him opportunities to learn first-hand about a broad variety of issues in St. James Parish.
Drainage and a growing industrial presence "are two topics that tend to come up in my meeting with the community," Keller said.
"There's this growing concern that industry is entering the parish and some residents are concerned about the health impacts," he said. ""Some feel we're focusing too much on industry, instead of retaining and attracting residents."
"What are we doing to keep our young people in St. James Parish and attract other young families to the parish?" Keller said.
More soccer fields, baseball fields, walking trails, recreational buildings and programs accessible to all parish residents would be one answer to that question, he said. Right now, recreational services vary greatly across the parish, Keller said.
"We need to try to get some uniformity," he said.
Wanda Pierre, retired from 20 years as a St. James Parish government employee, entered the parish president's race to address what she calls "the fence" in the parish — between the "haves" and the "have nots."
"With all the industries located here, our parish should be more advanced than it is, job-wise and education-wise," Pierre said.
"We should be one of the parishes on top in Louisiana," she said.
"I'm very concerned about our youth in St. James Parish," Pierre said. "I would like to have youth recreation/education centers, with swimming pools, on both the east side and west side of the parish."
She would also like to initiate a project to re-open the parish's now-closed juvenile detention center as a rehabilitation treatment center for youth struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, with a job development and job placement service on site, for the youth that complete the treatment program.
"Then they would be qualified for the skills they need to get jobs in St. James Parish," Pierre said.
"Balanced and smart commercial development," along with more economic diversity would also bring jobs and more opportunity to the parish, she said.
Early voting for the Oct. 12 election is Sept. 28-Oct. 5.
EDUCATION: Graduated from Lutcher High School; graduate of the Nashville Auto Diesel College.
PROFESSIONAL: Owner of DUFECO Trucking Co.; sugarcane farmer.
POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat
EDUCATION: Graduated from Lutcher High School; bachelor's of arts in mass communication from Nicholls State University; juris doctorate, Southern University Law Center.
PROFESSIONAL: Deputy assessor, St. James Parish Assessor's Office; formerly public information officer for St. James Parish government.
POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat
WANDA DUMAS PIERRE
EDUCATION: Graduated from St. James High School; attended vocational-technical college in Thibodaux, now Fletcher Technical Community College; attended Southern University; degree in theological studies from Christian Union Missionary School of Religion, Plaquemine.
PROFESSIONAL: Retired from St. James Parish government, custodial and clerk departments; retired hospice worker.
POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat