Voters across Louisiana will go to the polls Saturday, Oct. 2, to cast ballots in some very important local and state primaries. The only statewide office up for grabs is the lieutenant governor's office, which became vacant when Mitch Landrieu took the oath of office in May as New Orleans' mayor. Locally, there is a race for public service commissioner, several elections for judge in New Orleans, school board races in all parishes outside Orleans, and special elections for Jefferson Parish president and state senator in Senate District 2. Two charter changes round out the ballot in Orleans Parish, and voters statewide also must decide whether to adopt two state constitutional amendments.
Gambit urges all readers to vote this Saturday. We believe judges should be appointed, not elected; we therefore make no endorsements in judicial elections. Elsewhere, we make the following recommendations:
While we were impressed with all who sought our endorsement in this race, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne stands out as the candidate most ready to step into the lieutenant governor's job. He served 15 years in the state Senate, where he was a leading voice for reform, and for the past four years he has served as Louisiana's secretary of state and chief elections officer. A moderate Republican, Dardenne is the only candidate in this race who has held statewide office. His record as a public official is scandal-free.
As secretary of state, Dardenne led the effort to expand early voting days, sites and hours — and to reduce the number of costly special elections during the "off season." He worked with elections officials in other states to fight election fraud while streamlining his office during difficult fiscal times. His office also oversees several state museums, and he instituted standard policies to govern them while eliminating admission fees.
The primary role of Louisiana's lieutenant governor, in addition to being a heartbeat away from the governor's office, is to shepherd the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. Dardenne has long championed Louisiana's unique culture, both as a professional speaker and as an elected official. He recognizes the critical importance of New Orleans' hospitality industry and cultural tourism, and he promises to maintain the lieutenant governor's office in New Orleans, which Landrieu opened after his election in 2003.
Jefferson Parish President:
Jefferson Parish voters are choosing a new parish president because former Parish President Aaron Broussard resigned in January amid a growing scandal. Now more than ever, Jefferson voters need a voice of integrity and reform at the helm of parish government. Council President John Young is the consensus choice to fill that role, and we heartily recommend his election.
Young has consistently bucked the good ol' boy system that seems to prevail in Jefferson Parish, and he's done so in the face of significant political opposition. He has championed transparency at every turn and spoken out loudly against the kinds of backroom deals that led to the unfolding scandals in Jefferson. Political opponents say he does not work well with others, but when others conduct public business behind closed doors or in ways that do not represent the best interests of the people, the people need someone who won't go along with the crowd.
Moving forward, Young will have to show that he can work with the council in order to achieve his goals as parish president. We trust that he knows the importance of evolving from "outsider" to "consensus builder" — without sacrificing his core principles — in order to succeed in his new post. We also trust the council will work with and not against a new parish president who likely will receive a huge voter mandate for reform.
Public Service Commissioner
District 3: Lambert Boissiere III
The Louisiana Public Service Commission regulates utilities, phone companies and common carriers within the state — outside of Orleans Parish. Its five members comprise perhaps the most important regulatory body in state government. The PSC's 3rd District hugs the Mississippi River from New Orleans to the outskirts of Baton Rouge and includes parts of Jefferson, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes. Incumbent Lambert Boissiere III was first elected to the PSC in 2004 and now serves as its chairman.
A former constable of First City Court, Boissiere has grown into his new job well. He guided PSC adoption of a plan to help hard-hit utility companies recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita without severely and immediately impacting ratepayers. Boissiere supports the search for low-cost alternative energy sources and increased transmission capacity statewide, which he says will help keep electric rates low. He also has supported PSC legal action against out-of-state utilities that seek to pull out of cost-sharing "system agreements" with Louisiana power companies. That action has saved Louisiana ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars in higher rates.
The PSC's work is highly technical and critically important to local and statewide economic development efforts. Regulators must strive to balance the rights of consumers with utilities' rights to a fair profit. This requires level-headedness and prudence — and we believe Boissiere has both. We urge his re-election.
State Senate District 2:
Voters in eastern New Orleans and the Lower 9th Ward will choose a new state senator to replace Ann Duplessis, who resigned to join the administration of Mayor Mitch Landrieu. This district was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and the floods and still struggles in many ways. We believe attorney and former Interim City Councilman Mike Darnell is best qualified to serve as the district's new state senator.
Darnell served honorably on the council when former At-Large Councilman Oliver Thomas resigned in 2007. A former city prosecutor who also has served as a temporary judge, Darnell is well versed in public service and the law. He likewise understands the importance of coalition building to get legislation passed, and he has the skill sets to step into the Senate and be effective immediately.
NORD Charter Change: YES
Voters across New Orleans will be asked whether to restructure the city's long-suffering Recreation Department, which once was a national model. The proposed City Charter amendment would take day-to-day operation of NORD out of the mayor's office and put it under a 13-member independent commission, most of whose members would still be appointed by the mayor. However, commissioners would serve fixed terms and have full authority to hire a recreation director. A separate, publicly created foundation would be charged with raising private donations to help rebuild the city's playgrounds. We wholeheartedly support this proposition.
Critics claim the change would "privatize" NORD. That is patently false. NORD and its functions would remain as public as ever — but its new structure would give it a more secure funding base. This new approach is modeled on the nation's most successful public recreation programs. Our kids deserve the kinds of opportunities presented in reforms such as this. We urge all our readers in New Orleans to vote YES on the NORD charter change.
S&WB Charter Change: YES
Also on the ballot in New Orleans is a proposed charter change that tweaks City Council membership on the Sewerage and Water Board. At present, both at-large council members and one district council member serve on the S&WB. The amendment would require that only one at-large council member be appointed to the board, along with two other council members. We support this change.
Amendment 1: FOR
Two state constitutional amendments also appear on Saturday's ballot. Amendment 1 would advance the starting date for annual legislative sessions. Sessions would end sooner and be limited to the same number of days as they are currently. By starting earlier, lawmakers would not bump up against the end of the fiscal year as they approach the end of each session. We support this change.
Amendment 2: FOR
Amendment 2 would keep employees in the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) out of the Civil Service system. While we generally support civil service protection for state workers, GOHSEP is unique among state agencies for its military command-like structure. Its employees must be available 24/7, anywhere in the state, to handle life-or-death situations. A governor needs flexibility in making personnel decisions in this office. We urge our readers to vote FOR Amendment 2.