Early voting starts this Tuesday, Oct. 25 and continues through Nov. 1 for hundreds of local, state and federal elections on the Nov. 8 ballot. Topping the ballot, of course, is the bitter presidential contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — a race that has become so toxic that many voters can't wait for it to end. It has divided friends, colleagues and families like no other election in memory. As a newspaper that focuses exclusively on local issues, Gambit has never endorsed in a presidential election. Like our readers, we have plenty of local and statewide races to ponder. Herewith our recommendations.
For U.S. Senator:
Boustany and Fayard
The race to succeed U.S. Sen. David Vitter has attracted the largest field of candidates ever to qualify for statewide office in Louisiana. While Louisiana is a conservative state, many of our readers across metro New Orleans embrace a more progressive strain of politics. In fact, many have noted that the Nov. 8 jungle primary has devolved into two virtual primaries between the two leading Democrats and the top four Republicans.
With those factors in mind, we have decided this year to make two recommendations to our readers: Congressman Charles Boustany for those who want to vote for a Republican; and attorney and business owner Caroline Fayard for those who prefer an independent or Democrat. Our reasons for endorsing each are distinct, but we believe Boustany and Fayard share one important attribute — each displays a determination not to contribute to the gridlock that has paralyzed Washington for more than a decade. Instead, both have the temperament and the courage to reach across the political aisle to build coalitions that will move our country forward.
A social and fiscal conservative, Boustany is also a realist who builds relationships that inure to the benefit of his district and state. He voted against (and to repeal) the Affordable Care Act, but as a physician he recognizes that repeal alone is an empty promise unless something better replaces it. He says he wants to see America institute policies that increase patient choice and transparency (read: improving patient access to the actual costs of their health care), while also focusing on the doctor-patient relationship. As a leader in his party's push to overhaul federal tax policy, Boustany proposes two or three brackets for personal income taxes, with fewer deductions but much lower rates, and a significantly lower corporate rate to end the current shell game of companies moving income overseas.
While we don't agree with all of Boustany's positions, we like his real-world approach to tackling the issues that have vexed the House and Senate for too long. In some ways, he reminds us of how former Sen. John Breaux, a Democrat, often served as a moderating influence on both parties — to the benefit of the country as well as Louisiana.
An attorney in private practice who also co-owns an airline serving medium-size Southern cities, 38-year-old Fayard represents a new generation of Democratic leadership. She supports repairing rather than repealing the Affordable Care Act and would vote to increase the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour. Fayard says her Senate priorities would be health care reform, making college more affordable (or at least helping students graduate with less debt), and keeping flood insurance affordable. She also supports equal pay for women and says existing federal law doesn't address all pay issues, particularly since Louisiana has the nation' largest gender pay gap.
Fayard's main Democratic rival, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, has criticized her for her family's past contributions to GOP candidates, but we reject the notion that people have to be ideologically "pure" to hold public office. That kind of thinking created the current gridlock in Washington. Besides, Campbell has declined to say whether he voted for President Barack Obama (Fayard says she voted for him both times), and he refuses to say if he supports Hillary Clinton — whereas Fayard publicly supports her. We think Fayard is the better Democratic choice.
They don't run on the same ticket, but they always serve on the same team for Louisiana. Second District Congressman Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat, and 1st District Congressman Steve Scalise of Jefferson, the GOP's House Majority Whip, rarely vote alike on hot-button national issues. However, these two men — whose friendship dates to their days in the Louisiana House of Representatives — could teach their colleagues a lot about building bipartisan coalitions and ending gridlock. The most recent example is the just-passed $500 million emergency flood relief appropriation for greater Baton Rouge and large swaths of Acadiana. Both men played key roles in securing the badly needed aid, and both are rising stars in their respective parties.
For Orleans School Board:
Four of the seven seats up for grabs this year on the Orleans Parish School Board have already been filled. Two incumbents drew no opposition and, in two other districts, candidates withdrew or were disqualified. In the three remaining races, we endorse District 6 incumbent Woody Koppel Jr. and District 7 incumbent Nolan Marshall Jr. We make no endorsement in District 4. Both Koppel and Marshall bring real-world experience to bear on the board, and both are voices of reason in the debate over local control of all public schools. We believe both men have earned another term on the board, which will regain control of state-run public schools in New Orleans in the coming years.
For Kenner Mayor & Council:
Zahn & Willmott
Voters in Kenner will elect a new mayor and at-large council member in a special election on Nov. 8. In the mayor's race, we recommend parish Councilman Ben Zahn. He is a former Kenner City Council member who knows the issues that confront the city and the importance of maintaining relationships at the parish level — particularly as they pertain to Kenner's infrastructure needs. In the at-large council race, we recommend attorney and state Rep. Tom Willmott. He has represented his district well in the Legislature for the past nine years, and we believe he will be a steady hand on the council. He also pledges to focus on improving drainage in Kenner's many low-lying neighborhoods.