Until the final hour of qualifying, it didn't appear anyone would challenge state Rep. Karen Carter Peterson in the special election to fill the vacant 5th District seat in the Louisiana Senate. In the final minutes, however, Irma Muse Dixon, a former Public Service Commissioner and state legislator, jumped into the race to represent the district that serves Uptown, Central City, the CBD and parts of Mid-City, Broadmoor and Carrollton.
Dixon, a Democrat, ran for the seat in 2007 and finished last among four candidates. That election was won by Cheryl Gray Evans, who resigned her seat last month to join her husband, Patrick Evans, a former television reporter who is now working as a Navy public affairs specialist in Connecticut.
Dixon says she has more experience than Peterson, the current House speaker pro tem, and that she would complement the New Orleans legislative delegation. "The main thing is Karen has the leadership position in the House, and we should be looking to build teams to go to Baton Rouge," Dixon says. "I have a great effect in building coalitions, pulling people together."
If elected, Dixon says she will focus on eliminating duplicative services in state government, reopening Charity Hospital exclusively for the mentally ill and creating an extensive green housing program. The Regular Democratic Organization and the Orleans Parish Republican Party Executive Committee have endorsed Dixon.
Peterson, who is term limited in the House, has endorsements from the Alliance for Good Government, the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman, state House Speaker Jim Tucker and other legislative colleagues. Peterson says there's little difference between the state's two legislative bodies, but she notes that a senator serves a larger constituency — and her 10 years as a representative give her vital experience.
"I've served with more than half of the current senators while they were in the House," Peterson says. "So much of what we do to be successful is based on relationship-building, trust and credibility."
Health care plays an important part in Peterson's legislative agenda. She supports the proposed LSU/VA hospital complex, saying it would produce thousands of jobs and would be the largest economic development project in the region. She is proud of her record on public education, having passed a bill that would have allowed schools to use state funds for deteriorating facilities — but Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed it. Peterson would like to centralize some services for charter schools to improve efficiency while protecting the schools' autonomy. She was an early champion of charter schools in New Orleans. — David Winkler-Schmit