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Race and the Races

The steady drone of numerous gubernatorial candidates debating the proper course for economic development and health care reform in Louisiana is music to the ears of Lance Hill.

Racial demagoguery of past statewide elections is largely absent from the governor's race -- and that's good for the state, says Hill, director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University, an organization that promotes racial and religious tolerance.

"Louisiana voters have learned from the divisiveness of racial politics," says Hill, who as research director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism (LUCAR) spearheaded efforts to derail the 1991 gubernatorial campaign of white supremacist David Duke. "Voters have learned they wasted their votes by going to political extremes, such as David Duke versus Edwin Edwards," says Hill, referring to the 1991 run-off race that made international headlines.

Today, Duke, a maverick Republican and Edwards, a Democrat, are in federal prisons on separate and unrelated corruption charges. Meanwhile, Hill says, the war in Iraq has left little tolerance for racial appeals in American political elections.

"When the United States is at war, there is a tendency to subordinate racial divisions to national unity," Hill says. Any racial appeals by political candidates are likely to backfire or at least be ignored.

Nonetheless, accusations have surfaced that some candidates are playing the race card. Last week, the Louisiana Democratic Party blasted Republican gubernatorial candidate Jay Blossman for running statewide television spots attacking Rep. Cleo Fields of Baton Rouge, a liberal black Democrat. The 45-second spots accused Fields of spending $400,000 in state funds on a bus for an inner-city youth program. Democratic Party officials characterized the ad as "misleading at best, and an appeal to racial prejudice at worst.

"This Republican candidate cannot and should not resort to using race as a ploy to get elected," says Democratic Party Chairman Mike Skinner. "After years of race-based politics, Louisiana will not allow such tactics to continue." A Blossman spokesman could not be reached for comment at press time. The ads did not generate any other public outcry and Blossman continued to languish in the polls late last week.

The racial issue cuts against black candidates, too. In the House District 102 race in Algiers, which pits African-American insurance company owner Ron Guidry against white incumbent state Rep. Jeff Arnold, Guidry was criticized at a forum last week hosted by the Alliance for Good Government for suggesting that race should be a factor in the campaign.

In response, Guidry told Gambit Weekly that the moderator at the Alliance forum asked both candidates if race should make a difference in the campaign. "I said yes and no," Guidry says. "I said no because ideally the election should be based on one's qualifications. I don't want anyone to vote for me just because I'm black. If you don't think I'm qualified, then please don't vote for me. Measure my credentials against my opponent's. I also said measure my qualifications against the entire Algiers legislative delegation, which happens to be white. They also happen to be supporting Mr. Arnold.

"I have been accused of being a racist because I have made these remarks. I don't know where that comes from but that's the way that it is."

Guidry, who narrowly lost the House election eight years ago to Jackie Clarkson, says Algiers' voting population today is more than 60 percent black and HD102 is approximately 64 percent black. Arnold was elected 18 months ago in a special election in which he was the only white candidate in a field of five. The district was then 57 percent black.

"I understand my district," Arnold says, responding to Guidry's comments. "I bet there is no other white in the Legislature who votes with the Black (Legislative) Caucus more than I do."

Arnold also suggests Guidry is over-stating the support of the Algiers' legislative delegation for his candidacy. "It's only two people -- Senator Francis Heitmeier and Representative Jim Tucker," Arnold says.

The incumbent says his support cuts across traditional divides of race, party and class, including Mayor Ray Nagin, School Board President Ellenese Brooks-Sims, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the AFL-CIO and Sen. Mary Landrieu. The Alliance, a self-described "multi-racial" political organization, endorsed Arnold's bid for re-election.

Key issues in the district include eliminating blighted property, improving schools, securing flood protection for hundreds of homes and protecting an evacuation route for West Bank residents. The primary election is Oct. 4.


Forums Winding Down

The Alliance for Good Government, a bipartisan political endorsement organization, hosts the last of its seven political forums in the coming days, concluding with a debate featuring the candidates for governor. The primary election is Saturday, Oct. 4.

Late last week, Alliance chapters from the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and St. Tammany jointly endorsed three Democrats for statewide offices: state Rep. Mitch Landrieu for Lieutenant Governor, incumbent Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Bob Odom and incumbent Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley.

This week, the Jefferson chapter of the Alliance will host a series of forums at Crescent City Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, at the corner of Transcontinental Drive and Utica Street in Metairie. All forums begin at 7 p.m.

On Monday, Sept. 8, candidates for sheriff and parish president will face off. On Tuesday, Sept. 9, candidates for all seven seats on the Jefferson Parish Council are featured. On Thursday, Sept. 11, candidates for the Jefferson Parish legislative delegation will appear. The same night, the Orleans chapter of the Alliance will host its final candidate forum, beginning at 7 p.m. at Axel's banquet room at 3900 Tulane Ave. Scheduled are forums for House districts 95 and 96 and Senate districts 4 and 5. The governor's forum begins at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 15, at the St. Bernard Council Chamber, 8201 W. Judge Perez Drive in Chalmette.

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