Due to the number of regional and statewide races and proposed amendments on the Oct. 22 ballot, Gambit is issuing its endorsements throughout the month. Next week we will endorse in the governor's race, as well as in all the Louisiana legislative races. A ballot with all our endorsements will appear in the Oct. 18 issue of Gambit. - Editors
Lt. Governor: Jay Dardenne In the absence of a hotly contested governor's race, the contest for lieutenant governor has become the main event this political season. It features two Republicans - incumbent Jay Dardenne and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser. Though both Republicans, the two men have very different styles. Dardenne is low-key but effective; Nungesser is passionate but sometimes ill spoken. In the 10 months that Dardenne has been lieutenant governor, he has done more with less. For example, instead of appointing a secretary of the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, which the lieutenant governor oversees, he took the job himself and saved taxpayers $130,000. He also resuscitated the prestigious Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge when it was in danger of dying from budget cuts, and he is Louisiana's best hope for drawing visitor dollars during next year's statehood bicentennial celebration, which has been underfunded. Most of all, should Gov. Bobby Jindal move on during his second term, we believe Dardenne is best suited to step into the Governor's Mansion with a minimum of drama but a wealth of experience.
Secretary of State: Jim Tucker This contest also features an all-GOP field - incumbent Tom Schedler, who got the job on an interim basis when Dardenne won a special election as lieutenant governor last November, and state Rep. Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, who has served as House Speaker since 2008. We like both men very much, but we give the edge to Tucker. He proposes to expand the office's usefulness to businesses by linking its Web site to state and local economic development and licensing agencies. He also promises to improve the Elections Department's Web site, which in recent years regressed in usefulness, speed and navigability. As House Speaker, Tucker proved his mettle time and again by holding the line on spending, by championing controversial but needed reforms, and by NOT using his position to advance a partisan agenda. He appointed Democrats to key committees (including chairmanships) and did not hesitate to show his independence from Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal to the point of seeing Jindal veto key economic development projects in his district. We think that kind of independence and vision will serve him well as secretary of state.
BESE District 1: Jim Garvey Jim Garvey currently serves as BESE's vice-president; he has been a member since 2007. He is a strong proponent of charter schools and of their most vocal local booster, the Educate Now! nonprofit. While charters are not a panacea for the longstanding ills of New Orleans' public schools, improved test scores and increased parental satisfaction at many of the city's new charters show how well charters can work in a broken system, given the right level of supervision and parental involvement. Garvey has served two years on BESE's accountability commission and knows the charter programs' strengths and weaknesses in Orleans Parish. He deserves re-election.
BESE District 2: Kira Orange Jones Kira Orange Jones is challenging the eight-year incumbent in this race, but she has won endorsements from across the political spectrum. Her personal story is inspiring (a remedial student who went on to receive a masters' degree in education from Harvard). She taught in Baton Rouge and later became Teach For America's vice-president of New Site Development, partnering with community leaders to raise funds. While an advocate for charters, Jones is concerned about the rate of special-education students and others with disciplinary problems being expelled from some local charters - a concern we share. We believe she is the person who can help reverse this downside to the charter movement. We strongly endorse Jones for BESE's District 2 seat.
THE JEFFERSON PARISH BALLOT
Charter Amendment - Inspector General - FOR. Jefferson voters will be asked to amend the parish home rule charter to establish the Office of Inspector General and an Ethics and Compliance Commission. These two entities will institutionalize recent reforms and bring greater accountability and transparency to parish government. The IG will report to the commission, the members of which will be nominated by area university presidents. The commission also will review, interpret, render opinions on and enforce parish ethics policies and standards of conduct for public officials, parish employees and those who interact officially with the parish and public officials. We urge voters in Jefferson to vote FOR the charter amendment.
Millage Realignment - Inspector General - FOR. To be effective, the OIG and the Ethics and Compliance Commission must be independently funded. This proposition is a companion to the charter amendment; it would realign an existing half-mill property tax from the parish's Consolidated Road Lighting District and dedicate it to the OIG and the commission. Taxes would NOT increase. This proposition merely reallocates an existing tax and keeps it at the same level. We recommend voting FOR the millage realignment.
Sheriff - Newell Normand. Normand has been Jefferson Parish's sheriff for only four years, but he has spent more than 16 years in the office, serving as the late Harry Lee's chief deputy from 1995 until Lee's death in October 2007. Since becoming sheriff, Normand has put his own stamp on the office - and crime in Jefferson has decreased significantly. His accomplishments include maintaining a five-minute response time to emergency calls, stepping up code enforcement to reduce blight, integrating technology to enhance crime fighting efforts, working closely with clergy to mentor youth - including an after-school tutoring program and the band of excellence, which steers kids into music and off the streets - and reorganizing the department to provide more pro-active patrols. Normand also has put in place some $30 million in capital improvements, including a new crime/DNA lab. He has earned a second term.
Council District 1 - Ricky Templet. State Rep. Ricky Templet, R-Gretna, served two terms on the Gretna City Council before winning a legislative seat in 2007. Templet has shown that he knows how to work with others to get things done on the local and state levels, and that experience will enable him to serve his constituents well as a council member. He is committed to building upon the recent reforms enacted by parish leaders, particularly in the areas of accountability and transparency, and improving flood protection on the West Bank.
Council District 4 - Ben Zahn. This district includes most of Kenner and parts of Metairie. Zahn is in his second term as a member of the Kenner City Council, where since 2006 he has pushed for stronger code enforcement - an initiative he promises to take at the parish level as well. He is a staunch supporter of the proposed Office of Inspector General and has endorsements from across the political spectrum, including Sheriff Newell Normand and Parish President John Young.
STATEWIDE BALLOT PROPOSITIONS
Amendment 1: FOR Amendment 1 is known as the TOPS (Taylor Opportunity Program for Students) amendment, but it's more than that. In addition to redirecting yearly proceeds from the state's tobacco lawsuit settlement into the TOPS college tuition waiver fund, the proposition also would embed in the state constitution a 4-cent cigarette tax set to expire on June 30, 2012. Proceeds from that tax would be dedicated to the state's Health Excellence Fund, which supports children's health care through several programs. TOPS is very popular with voters, but it is expensive. Tuition waivers for qualifying students must be made up out of the state's general fund if the TOPS fund is inadequate. The amendment would help address that problem by dedicating to TOPS most of the annual receipts from the tobacco settlement for more than two decades to come. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 1.
Amendment 2: FOR Amendment 2 dedicates 5 percent initially, then 10 percent after two years, of all non-recurring state revenues to reducing the liabilities of Louisiana's four state retirement systems. Those liabilities are currently out of control and threaten to render the funds insolvent at some future date. Past efforts to rein in retirement benefits - and the liabilities they create - have proved politically untenable. Amendment 2 is a modest step in the right direction. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 2.
Amendment 3: FOR The Patients Compensation Fund was established nearly four decades ago to provide a stable source of revenue to pay medical malpractice claims. The money that goes into the fund is statutorily decreed to be "private" and therefore beyond the reach of governors and lawmakers during tough fiscal times. Amendment 3 makes that "private" label part of the constitution and therefore permanent. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 3.
Amendment 4: FOR Louisiana has a savings account. It is officially called the Budget Stabilization Fund but is commonly known as the "rainy day" fund. The fund has many regulations governing how and when it can be tapped - and how it must be replenished. Amendment 4 provides that when the fund is tapped, excess mineral revenues that generally replenish it need not go back into the fund until the following fiscal year. This makes sense. Moreover, the constitution already contains protections against excessive raiding of the fund. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 4.
Amendment 5: FOR Amendment 5 applies only to New Orleans. It clarifies, but does not change, current policy as regards the public auction of properties for which the owners are delinquent in paying taxes. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 5.
Endorsements: the Final Round
This Saturday, Oct. 22, is Election Day across Louisiana. This week we present our third and final round of recommendations in statewide and local contests. Whether you agree with our recommendations or not, we urge all our readers to go to the polls and vote on Saturday.
For Governor: A To-Do List
Four years ago, we endorsed Bobby Jindal for governor because he impressed us with his intellect and focus. This time, with no significant opponent, he has run the bayou equivalent of a Rose Garden campaign. Given that Jindal's re-election is a foregone conclusion, we take this opportunity not to add to his list of endorsements but rather to take stock of how he has done as governor — and to remind him that he has promises to keep.
As a candidate in 2007, Jindal focused on economic development, education, crime, state spending and ethics. He supported an LSU-VA teaching hospital in downtown New Orleans, and he has kept that promise. He has pushed hard — and so far, successfully — for the hospital, which will bring huge health care as well as economic development benefits to New Orleans.
On education, he is a staunch supporter of charter schools and the Recovery School District (RSD). So are we, though we are less dogmatic in our support. We don't see charters (or the RSD) as a cure-all for public education, but there's no denying the progress that previously failing public schools in New Orleans have made. On other education fronts, Jindal has been a disappointment. His push for teaching creationism in public schools (either outright or under the guise of "intelligent design") is a blatant sell-out to the Religious Right and undercuts Louisiana's image as a harbinger of education reform.
On the issue of crime, the governor has grabbed headlines by championing bills aimed at sexual predators and designer drugs, but he has not done much, in our opinion, to attack the underlying causes of crime. We applaud him for his commitment of National Guard troops to New Orleans in past years, but the troops are gone and the street violence has not abated. He needs to refocus his attention on the crime front. We have enough laws against sexual predation; what Louisiana needs now are resources to fight the social ills that cause crime. If the governor wants to fight crime, he should promote early childhood education — and provide more resources to make it work.
That brings us to the related topics of state spending and taxation. In his quest for ideological purity, Jindal has sacrificed Louisiana's overall well-being on the altar of his "tax virginity" — unquestionably to gird his national ambitions. For example, if he were truly focused on Louisiana, he would have embraced rather than opposed the legislative push earlier this year to extend a four-cent cigarette tax to generate money for health care. He also would cease his ideologically driven moves to privatize well-run state agencies such as the Office of Group Benefits and the John Hainkel Nursing Home in New Orleans, which is the highest-rated nursing home in the state.
It's ironic that Jindal's national ambitions have made him the most risk-averse governor in modern times. Instead of constantly promoting policies that amount to political window dressing, he should be bold in attacking Louisiana's real problems. Indeed, that would be the best possible springboard to national prominence. We would put this at the top of the governor's "to-do list" in the next four years.
Right next to that, we would add a commitment to real ethics reform and transparency. His 2008 reforms only scratch the surface — because they apply mostly to everyone else and not to him. In fact, his office has become one of the least transparent in the nation, thanks to "reforms" that he championed. He should reverse course on that front.
When he qualified to run for a second term, the governor promised to serve all four years. If he does that, it will be the first time in his political career that he has finished what he started. That means he will be around to see the consequences of his earlier decisions as governor. In the next four years, we hope Jindal stays the course on some of his decisions and reverses some others.
First appointed to the job in 2006 and then elected to a full term in 2007, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon has restored a sense of integrity to an office that for decades was plagued by corruption. He also has helped stabilize the state's insurance market after the devastating storms of 2005, expanding the number of insurance companies and thereby lowering rates through increased competition. Insurance regulation is a thankless job, but Donelon has earned national accolades through his steadfast performance.
Dr. Mike Strain
A veterinarian by profession and an experienced legislator before winning this job in 2007, Dr. Mike Strain has cleaned up an office that became a political backwater under his predecessor. Soon after taking office, he terminated the Department of Agriculture and Forestry's controversial construction programs, which had become bloated and marred by corruption. He cut the department's budget by almost 20 percent without reducing services, and he reduced its debt load by nearly 36 percent.
Senate District 3:
J. P. Morrell
This Senate district now covers parts of three parishes, spreading from parts of St. Bernard through eastern New Orleans and the 9th Ward, then jumping across the river to Marrero. As the incumbent, Morrell understands the needs across parish lines, having represented Orleans and Jefferson parishes in the old District 3. He brought millions home to reopen Methodist Hospital in eastern New Orleans and is fighting to get additional FEMA funding for Nunez Community College in Chalmette. He also is on the forefront of efforts to redevelop Avondale Shipyards, which will close in the next few years. He is clearly the consensus candidate to tie this sprawling and diverse district together.
House District 83:
A one-term legislative incumbent, Robert Billiot served more than three decades as a Westwego city council member and later as that town's mayor. He knows the people and the issues of his West Bank community as well as anyone, and he has always been available and helpful to his constituents. Like Sen. Morrell, he has worked hard to get local and state governments focused on the impact of Avondale's announced closure. He is respected by his colleagues and knows how to work with them to get things done.
House District 94:
Redistricting threw two incumbents into this bi-parish district, which encompasses Lakeview and Mid-City in New Orleans as well as Bucktown and several lake-area neighborhoods in Metairie. The two candidates have similar last names — John LaBruzzo and Nick Lorusso — and both are Republicans. But the differences between them are striking. LaBruzzo is a demagogue whose bills rarely pass; Lorusso is low-key but effective. LaBruzzo voted for the controversial 2008 legislative pay raise; Lorusso voted against the pay raise and signed an affidavit refusing to take it. LaBruzzo was bounced from the powerful House Appropriations Committee for leaving committee meetings early — after signing in to get his per diem pay. Lorusso missed no legislative dates this year, despite also serving in the Judge Advocate General corps of the U.S. Army Reserve. LaBruzzo has run a divisive campaign pitting Metairie voters against their neighbors in Lakeview; Lorusso has the support of the Jefferson Chamber, the Jefferson Parish Republican Executive Committee and the Alliance for Good Government. The choice is obvious in District 94: Nick Lorusso.
House District 98:
Four years ago, every legislative candidate promised to support ethics reform, but few have championed that cause as passionately and effectively as Neil Abramson. A measure of the integrity of his proposals is the fact that Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed one that would have made the governor's office too transparent for Jindal's comfort. He fought hard to keep the John Hainkel Nursing Home open when Jindal sought to close it, and despite his freshman status, he already ranks among the House leadership as vice chair of the Judiciary Committee.
House District 99:
Bishop won a special election in eastern New Orleans earlier this year, succeeding new Congressman Cedric Richmond. He seeks a full term from newly constituted District 99, which now also includes the Lower 9th Ward. An attorney as well as an assistant vice-chancellor of academic affairs at SUNO, Bishop says he will focus in the next four years on blight, public education and crime. He also promises to tackle an issue that affects poor and low-income voters everywhere: cracking down on predatory payday loan operators.
House District 102:
Arnold has served in the House since 2002, representing a diverse Algiers district that's majority African-American but also includes the posh English Turn neighborhood. As head of the Algiers Development District, he helps oversee development of the highly touted Federal City project. In Baton Rouge, he is a floor leader for the City of New Orleans and chairs the powerful House Commerce Committee. If re-elected, he will be the dean of the House and one of its most influential members.
Lakeview Street Maintenance District:
Lakeview in recent years has seen a dramatic resurgence in residents, businesses and property values. Unfortunately, the condition of many Lakeview streets remains deplorable. To their credit, leaders of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association urged lawmakers — led by state Sen. Ed Murray, who represents Lakeview — to let them vote on a $150-per-parcel fee to help raise nearly $1 million a year for minor street repairs. A nine-member board of volunteer appointees would oversee the repair fund. The fund would augment, not replace, other funds for major street repairs in Lakeview. If passed, the proposition would create Louisiana's first street improvement district in an area roughly bounded by City Park Avenue, the 17th Street Canal, Robert E. Lee Boulevard and Orleans Avenue. While not a "fix" for Lakeview's many bumpy streets, the proposition represents a good-faith effort on the part of citizens to take the lead in completing their neighborhood's rebound. We recommend voting FOR the Lakeview Street Maintenance District.
The Jefferson Parish chapter of the Alliance for Good Government has endorsed Kernan "Skip" Hand in the District 4 race for the Jefferson Parish council. Last week's paper indicated the Alliance had endorsed a different candidate. Gambit regrets the error.