Gambit's Election Issue

Early voting for the Oct. 12 statewide primary begins Saturday, Sept. 28 and continues through Saturday, Oct. 5 (except for Sunday, Sept. 29). Recent election cycles have seen a steady increase in early voting, to the point where up to 20% of those who cast ballots opt to vote early.

This is an extremely important election for Louisiana. Voters will choose a governor, six other statewide officials, members of the Legislature, local officials at the parish level and a new state Supreme Court Justice. Voters also will decide the fate of four proposed constitutional amendments. The decisions made between now and Oct. 12 will guide Louisiana for the next four years and beyond.

As we have done in the past, we offer our recommendations, with the strongest being that you, our readers, vote — even if you disagree with our endorsements. A big voter turnout is a victory for democracy. Herewith our endorsements.

STATEWIDE

Governor: John Bel Edwards

John Bel Edwards has earned a second term as Louisiana’s governor. After inheriting a $2 billion deficit from former Gov. Bobby Jindal, he worked with Republicans as well as Democrats in the state Legislature to produce a $500 million surplus in less than four years. That surplus can now be used to reduce state debt and start repairing some of Louisiana’s crumbling infrastructure. Another benefit of Edwards’ stewardship: Moody’s Investors Service recently upgraded our state’s bond rating.

Edwards expanded Medicaid, which made health care available to nearly half a million Louisiana citizens who could not previously afford it. That decision, because of federal funding for Medicaid, has helped balance the state budget — and saved lives. He also built bipartisan support for increased investment in early childhood education, a much-need pay raise for teachers, and a focus on criminal justice reform that has, for the first time in recent history, made Louisiana safer and removed us from the top of the list of the world’s most carceral places. Under Edwards’ leadership, Louisiana has begun climbing out of the ditch.

His opponents lob partisan attacks against him, but the truth is Edwards has put the people of Louisiana ahead of petty politics. He has governed with reason and fairness. We urge our readers to reelect John Bel Edwards so that Louisiana can continue on the right track for another four years.

Lt. Governor: Billy Nungesser

Billy Nungesser promised to serve without regard to party politics, and he has kept that promise. He has worked well with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and with the Republican-led Legislature. Equally important, he has led the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism (which the lieutenant governor oversees) with energy, focus and purpose. In the face of budget constraints, Nungesser worked with tourism leaders throughout Louisiana to help bring record numbers of tourists to all parts of the state. His office also manages most state museums and all state parks, which likewise have seen a spike in attendance despite budget cuts. Politicians love to talk about doing more with less, but Billy Nungesser has actually done it. He deserves another term as Louisiana’s lieutenant governor.

Secretary of State: Kyle Ardoin

Incumbent Kyle Ardoin served as the chief deputy of this office before becoming interim Secretary of State. He won the office outright in a special election last year and has served well since then. This office is an important starting point for new businesses and a key resource for attorneys and businesses needing to access important records and data. The Secretary of State also serves as Louisiana’s chief elections officer, charged with maintaining voter registration rolls and safeguarding the integrity of our elections system. The Secretary of State’s office has functioned at a high level for decades and continues to do so. Kyle Ardoin has earned a full term.

Attorney General: no endorsement

Treasurer: John Schroder

The state treasurer chairs the Louisiana Bond Commission, which approves state borrowing through the sale of bonds, and serves as the state’s chief fiscal officer. He also oversees constitutional and statutory funds placed under his control, manages the state’s cash (including reserves), and runs the state’s popular unclaimed property program. These and other functions of the office are critical services that typically are provided out of the daily spotlight, yet they have tremendous impact on Louisiana’s fiscal integrity. Incumbent John Schroder has served only two years, but he has served well. We believe he has earned a full term in the office.

Insurance Commissioner: Jim Donelon

Other than the governor’s race, the contest for commissioner of insurance appears to be the most hotly contested statewide race on the Oct. 12 ballot. Incumbent Jim Donelon took over the office after the third insurance commissioner in a row was sentenced to federal prison. Since that time, he has turned the office around. He spurred competition among insurance providers, which in turn has lowered rates in key areas. This was particularly true in the years after Hurricane Katrina, when so many insurance companies left Louisiana. Today, more than 30 companies write property and casualty policies in our state — a dramatic improvement over the immediate aftermath of Katrina. Donelon has been an advocate for consumers across the board and even held bail bondsmen accountable for overcharging their clients. His opponent offers promises and campaign rhetoric, but Jim Donelon has a proven record that merits him another term as insurance commissioner.

Agriculture Commissioner: Mike Strain

Incumbent Mike Strain is another statewide official who took over an office engulfed in scandal. Since he took office in 2008, he has brought integrity and stability to the state’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry. In his current term, Strain was tasked with overseeing Louisiana’s fledgling medical cannabis program. This was new territory for Strain as well as for LSU and Southern University, which were authorized by state lawmakers to grow medical strains of cannabis. Although the program saw several delays that frustrated those anxious to get legally recommended CBD, it is now available statewide and receiving rave reviews. Equally important, the program was launched without scandal. We recommend Mike Strain for reelection as agriculture commissioner.

BOARD OF ELEMENTARY & SECONDARY EDUCATION (BESE)

District 1: James Garvey

As a leading education reformer and three-term member of BESE, Jim Garvey has worked to improve public education across Louisiana. He has pushed for higher standards and expanding opportunities for public school families, particularly children with special needs. His work on BESE speaks for itself in the form of significant increases in graduation rates, improved ACT scores, higher-rated schools in his district (particularly in New Orleans), increased college enrollment among recent graduates, and higher TOPS-eligibility rates among high school graduates. 

BESE District 2: no endorsement

JEFFERSON PARISH RACES

Jefferson Parish Sheriff: Joe Lopinto

Joe Lopinto has improved an office that was already functioning at a high level. Since he took office in 2017, overall crime is the lowest it’s been in four decades. For the first six months of 2019, violent crime was down nearly 20% compared to the same period two years earlier. A sheriff’s main job is keeping his constituents safe, and Lopinto has done that job well. He also has done a good job with the administrative side of his job. We recommend Joe Lopinto for a full term as Jefferson Parish sheriff.

Jefferson Parish President: Cynthia Lee Sheng

The hotly contested race for parish president boils down to a choice between at-large Councilmember Cynthia Lee Sheng, who works closely with her colleagues to solve problems and move Jefferson forward, and former parish President John Young, who often clashed with council members during his tenure as president. While both are honest public officials, we think Lee Sheng’s approach will serve Jefferson better in the next four years. Jefferson Parish needs a leader who will unite the parish, not get bogged down in political squabbles and finger pointing. As a council member, Lee Sheng led the drive to clean up Fat City, which had become overrun with strip clubs and bars. Today that area boasts more family-friendly restaurants and businesses than ever. She will bring that same determination and focus to the parish president’s office. We urge our readers in Jefferson Parish to elect Cynthia Lee Sheng as parish president.

Jefferson Council At-Large B: Scott Walker

This race features two leading candidates with good reputations but significantly different backgrounds. Paul Johnston has held public offices in Harahan and on the parish council for a quarter century, and he has served honorably. But as Jefferson Parish ages and struggles to attract young families, we think it needs a new generation of leaders to address that and other challenges. Scott Walker, a Jefferson Parish native, former news anchor and now a local business owner, offers a fresh approach to problem solving. His endorsements from the Jefferson Parish Chamber and the New Orleans Metro Realtors attest to his viability as a candidate and his readiness to bring new energy to the council. We recommend Scott Walker for the Jefferson Parish Council at-Large B seat.

Jefferson Council Dist. 1: Marion Edwards

This Gretna-based district on the West Bank is among the parish’s most diverse, and it needs a council member who understands the importance of working with people from diverse backgrounds to solve common problems. Former Judge Marion Edwards will bring a strong record of public service, integrity and sound judgement to the task of serving on the council from District 1. What strikes us most about Edwards is that he was drafted out of retirement to run for this council seat. He doesn’t seek to pad his resume; he already ranks among the most respected public servants in Jefferson. He will be a leader, a unifier and a voice or reason on the council. We recommend Marion Edwards in Council District 1.

Jefferson Council Dist. 2: Michael O’Brien

This district straddles the Mississippi River and includes neighborhoods that have been adversely affected by odors and other problems associated with the parish landfill and chemical plants on the West Bank. Businessman Michael O’Brien’s campaign emphasizes air quality and overall quality of life throughout Jefferson. His priorities will be improved drainage, reducing air and noise pollution, and monitoring the parish landfill and chemical plants. He favors promoting the use of pervious paving materials instead of concrete and developing policies for better management of stormwater. He is endorsed by the Alliance for Good Government and the Jefferson Parish Republican Executive Committee. We recommend Michael O’Brien for the parish council from District 2.

Jefferson Council Dist. 3: Jedidiah Jackson

This is Jefferson Parish’s only black-majority council district. The open seat attracted a large field of 11 candidates, several of whom are well-known and controversial. In our view, one candidate stands out for having both the experience and the integrity to serve this district as it deserves: former parish administrator Jedidiah Jackson. From 2011 through April of this year, Jackson directed the Jefferson Community Action Program, or JeffCAP, and helped garner millions in federal grants for programs ranging from Head Start and other early childhood education programs to services for the elderly. His career has been one of constituent services, which we believe prepares him well to serve on the council. 

Jefferson Council Dist. 5: Jennifer Van Vrancken

Incumbent Jennifer Van Vrancken seeks reelection to the Metairie-based District 5 seat she won four years ago. Before her time on the council, Van Vrancken served as chief operating officer for the entire parish, overseeing 40 departments. As a council member, she has been a leader in the causes of transparency and accountability, and she has served with integrity and fairness. She brings innovative ideas to the parish’s efforts to attract new residents as it loses population, including recreation areas, bike paths, revitalization of major corridors and parish-specific celebrations. 

LEGISLATIVE RACES

Senate District 3: Joseph Bouie

In two terms representing House District 97, Joseph Bouie served as a floor leader for Gov. John Bel Edwards and fought for criminal justice reform, a higher state minimum wage and letting municipalities set their own minimum wages. He also championed legislation establishing equal pay for women. Bouie seeks to replace term-limited state Sen. JP Morrell, who has been a leader in the Senate on these and other important issues — and Morrell has endorsed Bouie. New Orleans needs a leader to fill Morrell’s shoes in the Senate, and we believe Joseph Bouie is the candidate to do that.

Senate District 5: Karen Carter Peterson

Incumbent Karen Carter Peterson seeks reelection to a third full term in a district that includes parts of Orleans and Jefferson parishes. She currently chairs the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee and has been a staunch advocate for equal pay for women, early childhood education, education reform, and tougher domestic violence laws. At a time when many of her colleagues are leaving because of term limits, our area needs to keep Karen Carter Peterson in the Senate.

Senate District 9: no endorsement

Senate District 10: Arita Bohannan

This race will determine who succeeds term-limited Sen. Danny Martiny in a district that includes Kenner, Harahan, Elmwood, River Ridge and part of Metairie. Both candidates in this race are Republicans and both are well qualified, but we give the nod to Arita Bohannan based on her willingness to look beyond party and ideology to solve problems. As a child of poverty who was sexually abused at age 8, she knows first-hand the importance of enhancing domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse laws as well as increasing funds for early childhood education. She also has championed the causes of fighting childhood sexual abuse and human trafficking. Bohannan is a businesswoman and family law attorney — not a “trial lawyer” — who served as Kenner city magistrate and on the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board. We recommend Arita Bohannan as the new senator in District 10.

House District 78: John “Big John” Illg

This district includes Harahan, River Ridge and parts of Metairie. A lifelong resident of District 78, John Illg is a local businessman with deep roots in the community. He has coached little league teams for decades and served on several civic and community boards. Illg supports increased funding for early childhood education and coastal protection. He will push for cleaning up the areas around the Jefferson Parish landfill and for taxing fantasy gaming to fund early childhood education.

House District 80: Polly Thomas

Incumbent Polly Thomas has represented this conservative Metairie district well, not only as a lawmaker but also as a leader in the parish Republican party. She says her primary focuses in her next term will be flood control and job creation. A member of the House Commerce and Education committees, Thomas also supports expanding and improving vo-tech training so that Louisiana can be more aggressive in attracting businesses and manufacturers. We recommend Polly Thomas for reelection.

House District 82: no endorsement

House District 83: James C. Simmons

This district includes some of the poorest parts of the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. James Simmons, a political newcomer who served three decades in the military, has the leadership skills needed to make a difference for this district. Simmons, who also served as a reserve deputy sheriff in Jefferson, supports increasing the minimum wage, increased funding for early childhood education and children’s mental health issues, and tax breaks for senior citizens.

House District 84: no endorsement

House District 87: Rodney Lyons

Incumbent Rodney Lyons seeks reelection in this West Bank district after one term. Health and hospitals, early childhood education and higher education are his top three funding priorities. In the next legislative session he plans to introduce bills requiring body cameras for Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputies and expanding Louisiana’s successful medical marijuana program to cover people suffering from diseases such as fibromyalgia. We recommend Rodney Lyons for reelection.

House District 91: Carling Dinkler

The contest to succeed term-limited state Rep. Walt Leger III has attracted a field of excellent candidates. We give the nod to Carling Dinkler based on his neighborhood and civic involvement as well as his experience in the public sector, both in Washington (where he worked for seven years as a congressional aide) and as a member of the city’s Historic District Landmarks Commission. Professionally, he serves a vice president at Enhanced Capital, advocating nationally for programs that encourage investment in low-income communities, small businesses, affordable housing, and restoration of historically significant buildings. His legislative priorities will be greater investments in infrastructure and early childhood education, pay equity, and raising the minimum wage. We recommend Carling Dinkler for representative in House District 91.

House District 94: Stephanie Hilferty

Stephanie Hilferty seeks a second term in this district, which straddles Orleans and Jefferson parishes near the lake. A former neighborhood association president, Hilferty helped secure state funding to repair major streets and called for improved accountability at the Sewerage and Water Board, a state-created agency. In her second term, she plans to introduce legislation to allow municipalities to establish their own homestead exemption rates (a nod to recent assessments in Orleans) and to establish a tax credit that parents can use for early childhood education. A Republican, she puts her district and her constituents first, which is another reason why we support Stephanie Hilferty for reelection.

House District 97: Matthew Willard

Although he comes from a well-known political family, Matthew Willard has blazed his own trail. A lifelong resident of Gentilly, he is an elected member of the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee and a leader in the Seabrook Neighborhood Association. He supports letting New Orleans establish its own minimum wage and increase the homestead exemption, and he will fight to restore funding to mental health and substance abuse services. He serves on the board of Jason’s House, a nonprofit that helps finance low-cost housing for men following rehabilitation for chemical dependency. At age 30, he already has an impressive record of community service. We recommend Matthew Willard as the new representative from House District 97.

House District 98: Aimee Adatto Freeman, Carlos Zervigon

The race to succeed state Rep. Neil Abramson has attracted the most talented field in the metro area, which has made our recommendation process particularly difficult. Although voters must choose only one candidate, we endorse two of them — Aimee Adatto Freeman and Carlos Zervigon — because we find both extremely qualified. Freeman is a Tulane adjunct professor, small business owner and civic activist who will bring a pragmatic approach to solving the state’s many problems. Her priorities as a state lawmaker will be pay equity, more money for infrastructure and early childhood education, and improved public safety. Zervigon is a former teacher, charter school leader, sculptor, visual artist and philanthropist who led the fight to reopen the Audubon Charter School after Hurricane Katrina. He advocates a higher minimum wage, pay equity, more funding for early childhood education and coastal protection, and reforming the state’s tax system. We recommend both Aimee Adatto Freeman and Carlos Zervigon for state representative in House District 98.

House District 99: Adonis Expose

This district includes the Upper and Lower 9th Ward and parts of New Orleans East, Bywater, Marigny and St. Roch. Businessman and RTA compliance manager Adonis Expose has worked with officials at the city and state level in his professional capacity. His years as a leader (and former king in 2017) of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club and other civic organizations attest to his community service credentials. His priorities in the Legislature will be bringing more retail, public transportation and affordable housing to the district, and pushing for more money for early childhood education and a higher minimum wage statewide. We recommend Adonis Expose as the new representative in House District 99.

House District 100: Jason Hughes

This New Orleans East-based district faces significant economic development challenges and needs a representative who can hit the ground running. We believe Jason Hughes will be that kind of representative. He proposes realistic and needed reforms to charter school boards (including more transparency), a higher minimum wage and significant improvements to Louisiana’s early childhood education programs — particularly for children from birth to age 3. We recommend Jason Hughes as the new representative in House District 100.

STATE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

Amendment 1: Tax Exemptions for Outer Continental Shelf

YES

This amendment would prohibit local property taxes on raw materials, goods, commodities and articles stored for maintenance if those items are destined for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). It is offered to clarify the law and avoid conflicting applications of local property taxes. We recommend voting YES on Amendment 1.

Amendment 2: Amend Excellence Education Fund

YES

This amendment would add three deserving schools and the Louisiana Educational Television Authority (LETA) to the list of authorized recipients of funds from the state’s Educational Excellence Fund. The amendment also would remove an outdated provision of the constitution that is no longer in force. We recommend voting YES on Amendment 2.

Amendment 3: Remedy for Unconstitutional Tax Unpaid

YES

This amendment would authorize the state Board of Tax Appeals to rule on whether certain taxes and fees are constitutional under Louisiana or U.S. law. The Board of Tax Appeals hears appeals from rulings by the state Department of Revenue; it does not rule on property tax issues. We recommend voting YES on Amendment 3.

Amendment 4: Allow New Orleans Property Tax Exemptions

YES

This amendment would allow the City of New Orleans to create property tax exemptions for residential properties that provide affordable housing. New Orleans has a critical shortage of affordable housing, and this amendment effectively establishes a pilot program that, if successful, could be replicated in other towns and cities across the state. We recommend voting YES on Amendment 4.

This is a commentary from Gambit, produced independently from reporters at the paper.