The vast majority of issues and elections on the ballot this year were resolved in the Oct. 22 primary. All statewide incumbents were re-elected, as were most legislators. Voters approved three state constitutional amendments and rejected two others. But some unfinished business remains. A handful of local and regional elections require runoffs, and several new propositions are on the ballot this Saturday, Nov. 19. We urge all our readers to go to the polls this Saturday, and we make the following recommendations:
BESE District 2:
Kira Orange Jones
This year's races for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) have generated record levels of interest, which is always a good thing. The reason for the heightened interest is the fact that reforms that began almost 20 years ago are now starting to show real results — and people with vested interests in the Old Order are making a fervent bid to take back the system they broke.
In BESE District 2, Kira Orange Jones is challenging the eight-year incumbent. She has won endorsements from across the political spectrum, including state Sens. Karen Carter Peterson, J.P. Morrell and Joel Chaisson, as well as U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, Jefferson Parish President John Young and Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Jones, a former remedial student who went on to receive a master's degree in education from Harvard, taught in Baton Rouge and later became Teach For America's vice-president of New Site Development, partnering with community leaders to raise funds. While an advocate for charter schools, Jones is concerned about the rate at which special-education students and others with disciplinary problems have been expelled from or otherwise kept out of some local charters — a concern we share. Louella Givens, the incumbent, has criticized Jones for taking out-of-town donations from big contributors (including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg), but at candidate forums, Givens has not presented a forward-thinking vision or new ideas for BESE — nor has she addressed a drunk-driving arrest earlier this year or an IRS lien filed against her for unpaid taxes. We believe Jones is the clear choice for this important position, which will help shape the future for many thousands of young people in southeast Louisiana.
Jefferson Parish Council
District 3: Mark Spears
District 3 is the minority district on the Jefferson Parish Council, and this year it is an open seat thanks to term limits. In Saturday's runoff, newcomer Mark Spears faces School Board member Cedric Floyd. Although only 31 years old, Spears, an attorney, has impressed many with his varied resume and his familiarity with the issues, particularly code enforcement — which is a priority in a district plagued by blight. We join the Alliance for Good Government and many others in recommending Spears for this seat.
Constitutional Amendment 1: Against
Only one statewide issue is on the ballot this Saturday, a proposed amendment to the state Constitution to bar local and state governments from imposing any new tax or fee on immovable property. While well-intentioned, this amendment is unnecessary — and virtually without effect, because an existing property transfer fee in New Orleans is "grandfathered" in. The truth is, local and state governments already face extremely high political and legal barriers to imposing the kind of tax or fee to be outlawed by this amendment. As a practical matter, the bar is already in place for new levies. We do not support higher real estate taxes or fees, but we also believe the constitution does not need to be further cluttered with feel-good placebos.
New Orleans Charter
Voters in New Orleans are asked to amend the City Charter to revise the makeup of the Public Belt Railroad Commission, which oversees the city-owned rail loop that services the port. At present, the commission consists of the mayor and 16 appointed members who serve 16-year terms. The proposed amendment would reduce the commission's size to 10 members serving four-year terms and would allow non-New Orleans residents to serve on the commission. The amendment, which is tied to recently passed state legislation, is City Hall's response to scandals that came to light last year along with a critical report by the legislative auditor. The amendment is a reasonable proposal for reining in a commission that needs to remain "unattached" while also becoming more accountable to the public.