Malise Prieto will not seek a sixth term as clerk of court for St. Tammany Parish _lowres

St. Tammany Parish Clerk of Court Malise Prieto

Malise Prieto, who has been clerk of court in St. Tammany Parish for nearly 20 years, will not seek a sixth term in office.

Prieto said an increasingly hostile campaign environment has taken the joy out of the job and hurt morale among her staff.

“To do a job like this, one must have ‘fire in their belly,’ ” she said in a statement Monday. “I’ve kept that fire burning for a long, long time — almost 20 years. Unfortunately, that fire has been extinguished by ugly politics and twisted truths.”

Prieto took over the office when another longtime clerk, Lucy Reid Rausch, retired. Her final term expires June 30 .

She said she is making her announcement to alert qualified candidates who might have hesitated to run against an incumbent in the Oct. 24 primary.

“I don’t know who will enter the race to succeed me, but I hope it will be someone with a passion for public service and an appreciation of history, accuracy and inter-agency collaboration to meet the needs of St. Tammany’s citizens,” she said.

Prieto, a lawyer by training, had drawn one announced opponent, lawyer Nelson Rivers, whose wife formerly worked under the longtime clerk.

Rivers, who has been campaigning since the spring, commended Prieto on her decision to “not draw this out” but to bow out instead.

“We’ll celebrate today but redouble our efforts tomorrow,” said Rivers, who predicted that other candidates will enter the race with Prieto’s departure. “The old political machine in St. Tammany is not going away that easily,” he said.

But turnover seems to be an emerging trend in St. Tammany Parish. Sheriff Jack Strain has drawn three opponents this fall, and the Clerk’s Office is the third parishwide post to see a long-term incumbent bow out in the past two years, although in the case of the Coroner’s Office and 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, federal corruption probes spurred the decisions.

Peter Galvan resigned as coroner before pleading guilty to federal charges, and Walter Reed announced about a year ago that he would not run again as the investigation into his administration became public. He was indicted this spring.

Louis Fitzmorris unseated longtime Assessor Patricia Schwarz Core in the 2011 election; she also is under federal investigation.

Prieto won her first two terms in fairly close contests. But she won decisively in 2003 and drew no opponent in 2007. In the last election, she captured 82 percent of the vote.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.