Voters are mad, mad, mad and they're looking for alternatives. That's the conventional wisdom — borne out by polling — but you'd never know it from this week's filings for the fall elections. Two of the biggest will-they-or-won't-they candidates — John Georges, who has run both for governor and mayor of New Orleans, and former lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Caroline Fayard, who had indicated some interest in running for secretary of state — officially became won't-theys when they didn't file for elections by the Sept. 8 deadline. That leaves Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser as the main challenger to incumbent Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne, and the little-known Tara Hollis, a teacher from Haynesville, as the Democrats' biggest hope against Gov. Bobby Jindal. Seven other candidates also filed to run against Jindal.
So who's in statewide? Without Fayard, the secretary of state's race will be a GOP clash between incumbent Tom Schedler and outgoing House Speaker Jim Tucker — as will the contest for attorney general, which pits incumbent Buddy Caldwell (the state's most high-profile Dem-turned-Republican) against former Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, who had also reportedly flirted with the idea of seeking the position of Louisiana Secretary of Education. State treasurer John Kennedy drew no opposition, while insurance commissioner Jim Donelon was challenged by political newcomer Donald Hodge, a Baton Rouge attorney. Mike Strain, the incumbent Secretary of Agriculture, drew two opponents, including Belinda Alexandrenko, a perennial statewide candidate running under the Reform Party banner.
Many Orleans Parish senators and representatives drew no opposition, serious or token, including Sens. Ed Murray, Karen Carter Peterson, David Heitmeier and Conrad Appel (all but Appel are Democrats). Reps. Walt Leger III, Helena Moreno, Jared Brossett and Austin Badon, all Democrats, will run unopposed.
The few local horse races in the legislature were mostly due to the 2010 redistricting. Senate District 3 will see a battle between two familiar names when former city councilwoman and state Rep. Cynthia Willard-Lewis challenges incumbent J.P. Morrell (Willard-Lewis was elected to represent Senate District 2 last year when Ann Duplessis left to join Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration). State Sen. A.G. Crowe will face off against current Rep. Nita Hutter for his seat (both are Republicans). Rep. Neil Abramson drew three challengers, while Reps. Wesley Bishop and Jeff Arnold drew one apiece.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was Jefferson Parish's comfort with its own status quo, given the number of suburban scandals, feuds and resignations there in recent years. The only challenged council seats are those with no incumbent, and only three legislative incumbents (all in the House) have been challenged. Parish President John Young, Assessor Thomas Capella, Councilmen at-large Chris Roberts and Elton Lagasse and Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer drew no opposition. West Bank representatives Robert Billiot and Girod Jackson each now have a challenger, but the big race among Jeff Parish representatives will be the clash between incumbent Rep. John LaBruzzo and Nick Lorusso for the redrawn District 94 seat. Anyone who's driven down West Esplanade Avenue in Metairie knows that LaBruzzo has had the "sign advantage" in the lakeside communities for months, but Lorusso is certain to hammer home LaBruzzo's enthusiastic support for the 2008 legislative pay raise — a position LaBruzzo later frantically reversed after voters began a recall campaign against him.
Despite some bluff, vague talk from state Democratic Party leaders in recent months about the strength of their candidates, for Democratic voters in Louisiana, it was the expected apocalypse even before the races had officially begun. When a tyro schoolteacher from Haynesville is the best a party can muster against the formidable and well-financed Jindal, Democrats have a right to feel blue. "Huey Long must be turning over in his grave," wrote an editorialist at the conservative website RedState, not unhappily.
The primary is Oct. 22. — Kevin Allman