Going into the fall election for 23rd Judicial District judge, some observers saw Assistant District Attorney Cody Martin as the best shot in the near future for a candidate not from Ascension Parish to a win seat in the three-parish district increasingly dominated by the Baton Rouge suburb.
With the retirement of three-term St. James Judge Thomas Kliebert Jr. from the Division B seat and two Ascension-based candidates in the other open-seat judicial race this fall, the prospect existed for all five spots on 23rd Judicial District Court to be held by judges with ties to Ascension Parish.
A native of St. James who has recently worked as the legal adviser to that parish's council but who also has his practice in Gonzales, Martin, 35, of Paulina would seem to have had cross-over potential to win a judicial seat where nearly three-quarters of the registered voters hail from Ascension.
Gramercy Mayor Steve Nosacka, in the days before the election, noted as a much and the concern among officials and others in St. James Parish was that if Martin couldn't win Nov. 3, it's not clear who could emerge in the future from St. James or Assumption parishes to challenge an Ascension-based judicial candidate.
The number of voters in Ascension and the attendant political power, in particular, of its more conservative northern crescent of new residents in Dutchtown, Prairieville and Galvez have been slowly gathering through the years.
Two-term Judge Jason Verdigets' victory in 2014 to win his seat demonstrated for the first time that a candidate with strong political ties in the Prairieville area could produce the numbers at the polls to beat out a candidate who more strongly aligned with other parts of Ascension and Assumption and St. James parishes.
Martin fulfilled the potential his backers saw in him on Nov. 3. He took 52% of the vote to Aaron Chaisson Jr.'s 48%. A 2,259-vote margin separated the two Republicans seeking to replace Kliebert, complete but unofficial results show.
In the other judicial race, for Division D, two Ascension Parish candidates battled to replace former Judge Jessie LeBlanc.
Prosecutor Steven Tureau won handily over public defender Chris Bridges, 61% to 39%. Tureau won in all three parishes by strong margins, complete but unofficial returns show.
In the Martin-Chaisson race, Chaisson won two of three parishes, Ascension and Assumption, but Martin's margin of victory in St. James plus his strong performance in the other two parishes delivered him the overall win, the results show.
An analysis of the precinct-level voting data shows, even in that race, Ascension remained the critical battleground to win or least be competitive in and Martin used that cross-over appeal to do so.
Martin won handily in St. James, 80% to 20%, a 4,914-vote margin that was run up in early voting.
Chaisson, who got the endorsement of Assumption Sheriff Leland Falcon, an early surprise in the election, won that parish but much more narrowly than Martin won St. James despite a strong early vote for Chaisson. Martin was able to swing support from other Assumption leaders.
Chaisson won 52% to 48%, or a 406-vote margin.
Chaisson, a New Orleans-area native who has lived in Prairieville for more than 15 years, looked the part of a typical new suburban resident of Ascension and could have been expected to find his margin of victory in northern Ascension.
Chaisson performed well in the early vote in Ascension, which set all-time records, beating Martin by 10 percentage points, or nearly 2,500 votes.
But, on Election Day, Martin actually won more precincts, performing well in areas around Gonzales, Galvez and St. Amant, and was competitive in Prairieville and Dutchtown precincts where Chaisson likely needed to run up the score, results show.
In the last days of the election, fliers were circulated in Ascension by a third-party group with uncertain backers accusing Chaisson of being part of a pliant parish Planning and Zoning Commission that had allowed new subdivisions and worsened traffic. Traffic and other infrastructure concerns are a top issue in that part of the parish.
In fact, Chaisson's record on the commission was as one of the commissioners most willing to reject new subdivisions on infrastructure grounds and was part of a majority the slowed the pace of new projects in recent years.
Chaisson and Martin also served together the past few years on the Planning and Zoning Commission, Chaisson as a volunteer commissioner and Martin as the body's attorney.
In an interview Monday, Chaisson said he believed the late-arriving flier may have had an effect on the Election Day vote and left his campaign little time to respond, even on Facebook, which restricts boosting of posts' visibility in the last days of a race.
In a post last week, Chaisson's campaign thanked its supporters and congratulated Martin on the close win.
"We wish Cody Martin the best of luck on the bench as he has stated to be dedicated in clearing out the backlogged docket and to help push the 23rd district forward for the betterment of our community," the campaign said in a statement.
Martin, who had his birthday two days after the election, thanked his supporters, Chaisson and other candidates who ran for office.
"I also want to give my thanks, appreciation, and respect to Aaron and all other candidates who put their names on the ballot. It’s a humbling experience filled with hard work and it takes a lot out of you and your family," Martin wrote in a Facebook post.