A number of parish presidencies come up for grabs this fall, with some actually fizzling compared to the intriguing ones that could have transpired. In Terrebone Parish, Republican Pres. Gordon Dove has angered big government advocates for refusing to back suits against energy companies and some blacks for his support of the parish’s judicial district’s current at-large method of selecting judges. Such opponents looked to rally around the candidacy of former Pres. Michel Claudet, but he declined to run, leaving just token opposition for Dove.
In Jefferson Parish, a much-anticipated free-for-all among Pres. Mike Yenni, former Pres. John Young, and Councilor Cynthia Lee-Sheng, all Republicans, lost luster when Yenni didn’t qualify. Early in his term, the rookie faced widespread embarrassment over the revelation that he had texted racy messages to a male minor and perhaps committed even greater folly along those lines, but refused to resign. Undoubtedly the Young/Lee-Sheng matchup will provide fireworks, but as the two didn’t differ all that much on the issues in the past (Young left for an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor) and were allies, the battle should be petty and bloody (precisely because they didn’t differ much and were allies) that leaves one faction supreme, but won’t have great ramifications for policy.
So, this leaves the Lafayette Parish presidency the most interesting, not the least because incumbent GOP Mayor-Pres. Joel Robideaux passed on reelection. Two GOP frontrunners have emerged by virtue of their past political activity: former state Rep. Simone Champagne and 2018 congressional candidate and lawyer Josh Guillory.
Champagne has a number of chits available for redemption from her legislative service, but reduced in helpfulness in this case as she then represented Iberia Parish. She came to Lafayette Parish as the chief executive officer of Youngsville, limiting her influence parish-wide. Guillory enunciated some solid conservative credentials in his uphill battle last year against incumbent Republican Clay Higgins. Republican real estate executive Nancy Marcotte might find a way to squeeze past one of this pair.
However, two additional dynamics make this contest unpredictable. For one, a last-minute black Democrat, financial adviser Carlos Harvin, jumped in, joining the others and no party Carly Alm-LaBar. With so many candidates and a black registration of about a quarter of the parish, Harvin could ace out a Republican in the runoff, making whoever joins him the winner, so this could end up quite the cage match.
Also, last year Lafayette voters returned to a system of a Lafayette city council and a Lafayette Parish council, splitting the present single legislative body. How the dynamics of another layer of races will have on the fortunes of each mayor-president candidate is anybody’s guess.
If you’re looking for the most interesting state Senate race, go to northwest Louisiana. True, the attempted return of Democrat pugilist Troy Brown against the man who replaced him after he resigned for legal charges stemming from an odd mix of combat and marital infidelity, Democrat state Sen. Ed Price, has some cage match potential. The same applies to professional race-baiter Democrat Gary Chambers trying to pry away the seat of Democrat state Sen. Regina Barrow. And a potential return of the ethics-impaired former state Sen. Cleo Fields, against a leading apologist for the state’s unreformed subpar educational system Democrat state Rep. Pat Smith also ought to entertain. And, keeping the theme going, having beaten the rap against former Democrat Gov. Edwin Edwards, Democrat state Sen. Greg Tarver has started the party early by trying to kick off the ballot challenging him the most useless legislator in the state, Democrat state Rep. Barbara Norton, and another opponent.
But it’s another northwestern race that, on the basis of intrigue, unpredictability, and potential policy change, that’s the most interesting. Republican state Sen. Ryan Gatti already had his hands full fending off a challenge from GOP businessman Robert Mills. It turns out he could miss a runoff, because of the last-minute entrance of a novice black Democrat, Mattie Preston.
In 2015, Gatti grabbed 34 percent of the vote in the general election, 8 percent more than a white Democrat who spent six figures with help from state Democrats, and sneaked out a victory in the runoff. In 2019, because of some votes for big government items as reflected in Gatti’s Louisiana Association of Business and Industry lifetime legislative voting score of 56, he could have counted on a good portion of the district’s Democrats voting for him if just him against Mills heads up.
Blacks make up only 22 percent of the district but if almost all of them vote for Preston, then Gatti hasn’t much margin for error. The majority of Republicans will vote for Mills, so Gatti must appeal to white Democrats to keep himself in a runoff. As some reflexively will vote for a Democrat, how much effort Gatti puts into that and how seriously Preston campaigns will determine not only whether Gatti can make the runoff, but also whether he can win it if he makes it.
The most intriguing House contest crops up in the southwest. For 28 years a Hill has represented District 32; the first 16 by Herman and the last 12 by his wife Dorothy Sue, both Democrats. Both were term limited. So, guess what? Herman, age 82 at the election’s conclusion, wants his old job back.
A district that voted 78 percent for GOP Pres. Donald Trump has no business putting a Democrat into office, much less a fossilized one. This will be a supreme test of Louisiana’s political maturation away from personalistic politics of the past, which accented a candidate’s personal characteristics and deemphasized his ideology. Simply, Republican Dewith Carrier (who himself has a compelling personal story) should win this district if people vote their issue preferences. If Hill should win, it demonstrates liberal populism, which has kept Louisiana back, still has too much of a preternatural grip on the state.