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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Many reasons to vote

Posted By on Thu, Nov 20, 2014 at 9:21 PM

The U.S. Senate showdown between incumbent Mary Landrieu and challenger Bill Cassidy is not the only hotly contested race on the Dec. 6 ballot. Several other local races are providing almost as many fireworks as the Senate shootout. Here’s a look at some of them:

• The PSC Race — The most interesting match-up on the local scene is the runoff for the District 1 seat on the Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC). The five-member commission regulates public utilities, and while its meetings are not watched closely by most voters its decisions affect virtually every citizen and business in the state. Two Republicans of very different stripes face each other in the runoff.

Incumbent Eric Skrmetta has been on the PSC since 2009 and is the utilities’ go-to guy on the commission. He gets most of his campaign money from those utilities, and that has become a flashpoint in this election. Challenger Forest Bradley Wright formerly worked for the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a consumer advocacy group based in New Orleans. Wright gets much of his campaign money from solar energy companies, which are not regulated by the PSC but do compete with public utilities.

Wright pulled off something of an upset in the primary, narrowly leading Skrmetta by a 38-37 percent margin. Third-place finisher Al Leone got 25 percent and is backing Wright in the runoff.

Skrmetta has lots more money and organization behind him, including the area GOP, but Wright has momentum and a message that seems to resonate with voters. Look for Skrmetta to try to link Wright to President Barack Obama. Wright used to be a Democrat.

There was a time when many leading Republicans (including Ronald Reagan) used to be Democrats. It will be interesting to see if voters care more about politically pure lineage than the size of their monthly utility bills.

• Orleans School Facilities Millage — Local, state and federal authorities are investing nearly $2 billion in public school facilities in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but there is no dedicated source of money to maintain and preserve those facilities. Voters in New Orleans are being asked to rededicate an existing 4.97-mill property tax so that some of the tax proceeds (as they become available) can be dedicated to facilities maintenance.

Before Katrina, one of the saddest stories in public education was the sorry state of school buildings in Orleans Parish. This proposition offers voters an opportunity to fund long-term public school facility preservation without a tax rate increase.

Opposition is rooted in long-term resistance to the Recovery School District, which will co-manage the facilities fund with the Orleans Parish School Board. Supporters of the proposition include Mayor Mitch Landrieu, most members of the New Orleans City Council, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, the New Orleans Business Council, the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR), Citizens for One of Greater New Orleans, Stand for Children, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and others.

• First Parish Court — Sometimes the smallest races cause the biggest dust-ups. The runoff for judge of First Parish Court in Jefferson pits Republican attorneys Johnny Lee and Pat Rooney against each other, and the gloves are off.

Lee led the primary with 29 percent to Rooney’s 22 percent, and he has endorsements from Sheriff Newell Normand and a host of other elected officials. In the parish GOP endorsement meeting, Normand reportedly grilled Rooney about a “phony ballot” that Rooney’s campaign mailed to East Bank Republican voters in the primary.

The ballot purportedly was published by the “East Jefferson Republican Voter League,” but no such group exists. Under questioning (some later called it “cross-examination”) by Normand, Rooney admitted that the ballot was produced by his campaign manager. The ballot bore the GOP logo, even though it was not the party’s official ballot. The parish GOP executive committee, meanwhile, took two ballots to decide it supports both men in the runoff.

I get the feeling “Ballot-gate” is far from over. The Louisiana Supreme Court has a special committee that oversees judicial elections. It will be interesting to see if this becomes an issue for the committee.

All in all, there are many reasons to vote on or before Dec. 6. Early voting begins this Saturday, Nov. 22, and continues through Saturday, Nov. 29. There will be no early voting on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, or on Black Friday, Nov. 28.

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