Next Tuesday, Nov. 2, is Election Day across America. Here in Louisiana, several important races top the ballot — including hotly contested elections for U.S. Senate, Congress and lieutenant governor. Voters across the state also will consider 10 proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution. We offer the following recommendations, but most of all we urge our readers to vote on Nov. 2.
Melancon for Senate
In the race for U.S. Senate, the choice could not be clearer: The incumbent, David Vitter, has disgraced himself, his family, his party and his state. After campaigning as the embodiment of family values, he was exposed as a client of the infamous D.C. Madam prostitution ring. He has brought shame upon us all, yet he has shamelessly waged a campaign marked by race-baiting ads about illegal aliens, gross distortions of the record, and a cowardly refusal to participate in independent debates. On top of all his "serious sins," Vitter knowingly kept on his payroll for two years a man who held a knife to the throat of his former girlfriend, threatened to kill her, and then cut her throat. After all that, Vitter put the aide in charge of women's issues. David Vitter needs to go.
Thankfully, voters have a viable conservative alternative in Congressman Charlie Melancon. Though a Democrat, Melancon has a long history of crossing the aisle to vote for what's right for Louisiana and for America. Like most people in Louisiana, Melancon is pro-life, pro-gun and, most important of all, his election will show the world that Louisiana does indeed have standards of conduct for its elected officials. Sen. Vitter wants this race to be a referendum on President Barack Obama. That's because he could never survive a referendum on David Vitter. We urge our readers to elect Charlie Melancon as Louisiana's U.S. Senator.
Richmond for Congress
In the race for the 2nd Congressional District, we like both Cedric Richmond and Anh "Joseph" Cao, for different reasons. We have seen Richmond mature significantly as a state representative and as a young professional since Hurricane Katrina, and we have always liked Cao's low-key, diplomatic approach to the political process. After long reflection, we give the nod to Richmond.
While Cao has conducted himself with honor, his primary allegiance in Congress seems to lie more with the national Republican Party than with his overwhelmingly Democratic constituents. The 2nd District voted nearly 4-to-1 for President Obama two years ago, yet on the president's signature initiatives — health care and the stimulus plan, for example — Cao voted "no." We respect Cao for his core values, but the job of a congressman is to represent his or her district. We believe Richmond would do a better job — not because he is a Democrat, but because he already has more than a decade of success as a state lawmaker.
Richmond authored Louisiana's highly successful New Markets Tax Credits program, which put millions of recovery dollars to work across south Louisiana. He also voted against the legislative pay raise in 2008. Most of all, Richmond has demonstrated an ability to reach across the aisle to work with lawmakers from other parties and other parts of the state to get things done. We need that in Congress.
Richmond is far from perfect, but he owns up to his past mistakes. We believe he is wiser and stronger for it. We urge our readers in the 2nd Congressional District to vote for Cedric Richmond.
Dardenne for Lt. Governor
We endorsed Secretary of State Jay Dardenne in the Oct. 2 primary, and we reiterate our support for his candidacy for lieutenant governor. He has more than 20 years' experience in government, and he has conducted himself with integrity throughout his career. We like his moderate approach to governance and decision making, and we believe he has proved he is ready to assume this new role.
Voters approved two proposed amendments to the state Constitution on Oct. 2, but must decide the fate of 10 more next Tuesday. Here are our recommendations:
Amendment 1: FOR. Amendment 1 would provide that any increase in the salaries of statewide elected officials, Public Service Commission members or lawmakers could not take effect until after the next round of statewide elections. This amendment comes several years after lawmakers approved a large pay raise for themselves in 2008 — one that Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed. Unlike every other Louisiana newspaper, we supported a legislative pay raise in 2008, but we said then that it should not take effect until the next term of office. This amendment would make our suggestion the law of the land. We urge our readers to vote FOR Amendment 1.
Amendment 2: FOR. This amendment would increase the share of severance taxes the state must pay to local parishes for certain natural resources extracted from the respective parishes. The state already stifles parishes' ability to raise revenues. This measure gives parishes greater self-sufficiency, and we therefore recommend voting FOR Amendment 2.
Amendment 3: FOR. This amendment would allow parishes to call an election raising the homestead exemption for disabled veterans who have service-related disability ratings of 100 percent. Surviving spouses of deceased vets who qualified for the exemption could continue claiming it. While we generally support lowering property tax exemptions, we believe disabled veterans deserve special preference after having paid so dearly for our freedoms. We are FOR Amendment 3.
Amendment 4: AGAINST. Present state law requires that property tax millage rates be automatically "rolled back" after each quadrennial reassessment to make the new property assessments revenue neutral. However, all taxing bodies can then, after a public hearing, roll the millage forward each year up to the level that it was prior to the reassessment — but no higher. This amendment would limit certain taxing authorities to a "roll forward" of only 2.5 percent above the prior year's millage level. We oppose this idea because it arbitrarily ties the hands of agencies that provide such critical needs as recreation, lighting, sewerage, drainage, libraries and hospitals. We urge our readers to vote AGAINST Amendment 4.
Amendment 5: FOR. This amendment would allow hurricane-displaced homeowners to continue receiving breaks on their property tax bills after major storms while they struggle to return home. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 5.
Amendment 6: FOR. Louisiana faces huge deficits in the future because of generous retirement benefits accorded various groups of public employees. This amendment would require legislative approval of future benefit changes — and two-thirds approval for increases that affect actuarial costs. We are FOR Amendment 6.
Amendment 7: FOR. This amendment would simplify the rules for tax sales and redemptions of property sold at tax sales. It also would make the rules for movable and immovable property the same. We urge our readers to vote FOR Amendment 7.
Amendment 8: FOR. This amendment would remove the requirement that public authorities first offer expropriated property back to the prior owner before the property can be sold to a third party if the property was taken to remove a threat to public health or safety and was held for 30 years or less. There is no reason to offer blighted, unsafe property back to the owner who allowed it to become blighted or unsafe in the first place. This amendment is critical to blight reduction in New Orleans, and we therefore are FOR Amendment 8.
Amendment 9: FOR. This amendment would require that appeals of worker comp cases be treated like all other civil appeals. That is, when an appeals court overturns an administrative judge's ruling by a "split vote" of 2-1, the case would have to be re-argued before a five-judge appeals court panel. This brings consistency to the judicial system; we are FOR Amendment 9.
Amendment 10: AGAINST. This amendment reduces the right of defendants to a fair trial by requiring that criminal defendants in noncapital cases (i.e., those that do not involve a possible death penalty) decide at least 45 days before trial is set to begin whether they want to waive their rights to a trial by jury. If adopted, this amendment would further clog the courts and slow down the criminal justice process — which means it is not at all the "victims' rights" proposal supporters claim it to be. We urge our readers to vote AGAINST Amendment 10.