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Inside Jefferson Parish 

Vitter Eyes Prize

Republican U.S. Congressman David Vitter, who represents Louisiana's First District, is expressing confidence about his ability to be elected governor of Louisiana -- if he decides to make the race. His initial plan is to run for re-election to Congress this fall and to make his decision about the governor's race at the beginning of next year. "I will only enter if I think I can win," Vitter says. To build name recognition and to better familiarize himself with Louisiana voters and their concerns, Vitter will travel across the state throughout the upcoming year.

Vitter is clear on the challenges Louisiana faces, which he believes are all interrelated. "We need to develop great jobs, root out corruption and dramatically improve education," he says. The congressman does not criticize Gov. Mike Foster's administration and, in fact, praises Foster for some major accomplishments, such as education reform and tort reform.

It is pretty apparent, however, that, Vitter will be a different kind of governor, if elected. The Republican cites his relative youth, age 40, as a positive and not a negative, saying, "I have the energy and credibility to do the job effectively." Foster is 70-plus years old and has been criticized for not traveling outside of Louisiana to court new business, in contrast to Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

Without mentioning Foster, Vitter is unmistakable on what Louisiana needs to bring new business to the state. "I will very aggressively travel outside of the state and meet with corporate leaders," he says. In fact, the congressman speaks favorably of the efforts of the state of Mississippi. When he works on an economic development projects, "time and time again, we run across the aggressive push of Mississippi," Vitter says. "They have been very effective." According to Vitter, Louisiana needs a similar attitude and focus on economic development to bring new jobs to the state.

One area that Vitter does not want to grow is the gambling industry, although he also does not believe it should be rolled back. He believes that the industry has many problems associated with it and should not have been a major focus of the state for so many years. "The biggest negative effect has been that gambling has tied us up in debate and diverted our attention from the real meat of economic development," he says. In a Vitter administration, he adds, there will be no more renegotiated deals with Harrah's Casino and no more concessions to any gambling entity.

On a personal note, Vitter says he has definitely enjoyed representing the First District, but that the travel back and forth to Washington, D.C., has been difficult for his young family. Serving in Baton Rouge would be much easier on his family, but his wife, Wendy, has not made her preference known yet. "Wendy has not made it crystal clear. That will be the deciding factor. She has a veto," Vitter says.

If he has his family's support, Vitter's only other hesitation in making the race would be the sheer magnitude of the job facing the next governor and not the politics of getting elected. "My greatest hesitation is the size of the challenges," Vitter says. "I am not thinking about the politics because they stack up in my favor."

Vitter admits that the problems facing the next governor are awesome. "This job is 100 times the job I have in Congress," he says. He wants to create opportunities for the future and stem the severe population loss the state has been experiencing. Right now, "the answer for so many is, 'I have to go elsewhere,'" Vitter says.

With so much at stake, Vitter believes that the upcoming elections in 2003 are critical to the future of Louisiana and that is why he is considering the race. "The bar is not whether I can win, it is much higher," he says. "It is whether I can serve and help us turn a corner in this state."

Kenner Calm

After much talk of many heated races, the Kenner elections will be relatively calm. Qualifying is now over, and the elections on April 6 will be easy for some and non-existent for others.

Some incumbents, such as Police Chief Nick Congemi and several councilmen, will be unopposed. The candidates that received the most opposition are the ones that have tangled with Congemi, specifically Council members John Lavarine III and Phil Capitano. According to one Kenner insider, "Chief Congemi put some candidates in the race against Lavarine and Capitano."

Why did the other incumbents receive either limited or no opposition? The answer seems to be term limits. In four years, all of these incumbents will have to give up their positions, thereby creating open seats. One potential challenger for Council-at-large, Joe Stagni, decided to forgo the race, stating, "Term limits were the major reason I didn't go. It wasn't worth spending that kind of money when I could wait four years and run for an open seat."

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