By Jeremy Alford and Mitch Rabalais
An actual announcement may or may not be forthcoming, but various bits and pieces for a gubernatorial bid by U.S. Sen. John Kennedy are being put together.
According to senior campaign staffers, Kennedy met with advisors late last month and has since cleared media consultant Fred Davis to begin work on the 2019 cycle, indicating to some that the junior senator at least wants to be ready should he actually reach for the brass ring of Louisiana politics.
The California-based Davis, who has worked with Kennedy in the past, confirmed his marching orders. “My gut feels he’s pretty serious,” Davis told LaPolitics.
The window of opportunity for the senator appears wide open. When Kennedy ran for the U.S. Senate in 2008, he announced in November, 2007. For the 2016 Senate race, Kennedy was an official candidate by February of that year.
Aside from Gov. John Bel Edwards, the only other recent moves of note for the 2019 contest have originated with Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, who has formed an exploratory committee.
The other potential candidates include Attorney General Jeff Landry of New Iberia, Congressman Ralph Abraham of Alto, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt of Covington and Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President Stephen Waguespack of Baton Rouge. All are Republicans.
Mayoral Jobs Hot Election Topic
If you’re reading this sentence in September, 2018, then you probably live in a Louisiana municipality, which means you likely reside in or near a village, town or city that’s hosting a mayoral election this fall.
While members of Congress will get the lion’s share of campaign donations and media attention, this fall will mark an important cycle for elected municipal-level jobs, particularly mayorships. In metro areas and small country settings, voters are preparing to fill the most intimate of elected positions.
From Harahan to Alexandria to Minden, the parochial contests are capturing the imaginations of voters in ways only local elections can. The developing races are being watched with general interest at the Louisiana Municipal Assoc., where executive director John Gallagher and his staff are preparing for another transition in membership.
Local political elections typically fail to energize the masses. But that sentiment doesn’t factor in for LMA’s human resources, who have been observing the mayoral landscape from a distance since 1926, and working with its winners on the administrative side of things.
“There seem to be slightly more incumbent mayors deciding not to run this cycle,” said Gallagher, adding that the broader trend involves the shrinking duration of service being posted by municipal leaders. “Just at LMA, we’re losing two past presidents. So we’ve been focused on improving the services we provide to incoming mayors, and we’re looking to expand it into our online platforms.”
Over the summer, unexpected vacancies gripped politicos in Alexandria, Broussard, Crowley and Minden, where the mayors had become institutions. There are a half dozen or so first-term mayors seeking re-employment on the fall ballot as well, along with a handful of interim mayors who’ve been living in the shadows of midterm resignations.
LaPolitics Weekly, a non-partisan trade publication for political professionals, reviewed the races for its subscribers in August, and flagged an initial round of 15 mayoral matchups to keep tabs on.
The Loud One
In Shreveport, the race to replace the city’s first black female mayor has reached an early boiling point. As unpredictable as she is controversial, Mayor Ollie Tyler is seeking re-election with nine opponents and no promises of a repeat of 2014.
If you’re just tuning into this election, then you’re late to the show. With signs planted around the city, commercials airing on television and public forums actually generating interest from reporters and voters, this mayoral race has quickly become one of Louisiana’s hottest elections — municipal or not.
Residents of the Red River city certainly knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. Last go around, voters were subjected to the details of Tyler’s involvement in her husband’s shooting death. They were pummeled with uncomfortable information about a challenger’s mental state. Another candidate added mud to the Red’s political waters when he was accused of double billing legislative-related expenses.
Now Tyler is facing questions about the overcollection of taxes, mounting lawsuits and her management style.
“If something has been done wrong,” Tyler said during a recent candidate forum, “we’ll do the audit when I’m re-elected.”
Of the nine challengers, there are possible watch-me bids coming together for Caddo Parish Commissioner Steven Jackson; Jim Taliaferro, the former executive director of Shreveport Crime Stoppers; and Lee Savage, a prominent local businessman.
The election took an unexpected, ugly turn this summer when Jackson allegedly became the subject of racially charged death threats.
The Historic One
Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy surprised politicos across the state when he announced he wouldn’t seek a fourth term this fall. Roy, who had been fundraising and polling, is said to be exploring a possible statewide run in 2019.
Three candidates have qualified to fill the open seat, including state Rep. Jeff Hall, who finished second to Roy in 2014. Hall has a ready-made fundraising base in Baton Rouge, a tested campaign structure and the added motivation of wanting to exit the Legislature, whose members have been fleeing this term in the face of unprecedented pressure and uncertainty.
Local influencers are watching Kay Michiels, Roy’s former chief operating officer. She has qualified for the race alongside attorney Catherine Davidson.
Regardless of who’s successful in November, Alexandria will elect either its first minority mayor or its first female mayor.
The Ones That Are Over
Supplementing this wave of fresh municipal leadership statewide is a lack of candidate interest in a notable number of mayoral races. There were 10 opponent-free contenders this cycle who won in the easiest way possible — just by showing up.
Finishing before they even started, Louisiana’s elected or re-elected mayors and mayors-elect were Wayland Lafague of Kinder, Darla Istre of Mermentau, Don Popp of Esterwood, Johnny Thibodaux of Duson, Carroll Snyder of Krotz Springs, Kevin Colligan of Cankton, Tony Lamonte of Tickfaw, Patrick St. Pierre of Lutcher, Clarence Bebee of Hornbeck and Robert Maples of Ridgecrest.
Political History: Uncle Harry’s 32-Year Streak
Before term limits started sending politicians home, some folks viewed elected office in Louisiana as a lifetime ticket to security. That was particularly true at the turn of the century (as in 1900, not 2000). If you did a good job, the voters — your people — would keep you in the luxurious lap of governance.
That’s not the case with the Bayou State’s big elected jobs these days. Governors can only serve two consecutive terms, thanks to “Big John” McKeithen, who created the second term before becoming the first governor to reap its benefits.
And state legislators are permitted just three consecutive terms, courtesy of David Vitter, the former state representative who graduated to the U.S. Senate.
To find a lifetime gig now, candidates either run local or dip into Louisiana’s pool of other statewide elected offices. With no terms restricting their terms, the positions that offer true legacy-building possibilities are lieutenant governor; secretary of state; treasurer; attorney general; commissioner of agriculture and forestry; and commissioner of insurance.
The gold standard for elongating the duration of these offices belongs to Harry D. Wilson. Interestingly enough, he was the father of famed Cajun personality Justin Wilson, who was the focus of his own history segment in this space recently.
Known to voters as “Mister Harry” or “Uncle Harry,” the elder Wilson was elected as agriculture commissioner in 1916 and served 32 years before dying in office at the age of 78. An identical 32 years was served by late Secretary of State Wade O. Martin.
Uncle Harry “helped develop the seed laboratory and pushed for an increase in entomological work within the department” and “created an agricultural museum in the basement of the Capitol with a colorful display of Louisiana’s diverse agriculture industry; and touted Louisiana products as ‘the finest anywhere,’” according to the agriculture department’s Market Bulletin — a publication that Wilson created.
Not to be outsized by what the future held for his talented son, Uncle Harry had already made a name for himself by the time he became a three-decade commissioner. He stood for Tangipahoa Parish for two terms in the state House of Representatives, beginning in 1900. While in the lower chamber, he also became a local legend by leading the charge for the creation of the town of Independence — with the help of then-Gov. William Wright Heard.
Originally elected as an independent, he soon became aligned with the populist faction of the Louisiana Democratic Party. As for Huey Long, Uncle Harry was largely indifferent to the Kingfish and his antics, preferring to manage his department and stay out of the governor’s way. Nonetheless, his name would be on the Long tickets for the remainder of his career.
In the end, the only label that carried weight with Uncle Harry was that of an Independence native. Home is what mattered most, which was evidenced by his parting words. According to Market Bulletin, Uncle Harry died following a seven-day coma. As he lay dying in a Baton Rouge hospital, Uncle Harry momentarily regained consciousness and made a final request of a nearby nurse. “Turn me toward Tangipahoa.”
The Other Ones
— In Crowley, Greg Jones, the incumbent mayor, is stepping down after three terms in office. Five candidates, including four of the city’s current aldermen, are running for the top spot in city hall.
— In Rayne, GOP Mayor Chuck Robichaux is seeking a second term in the “Frog Capital.” His challengers are Democrat Brian Mouton and independent Morris Montgomery.
— In Eunice, incumbent Scott Fontenot is seeking election to a full term as mayor after succeeding the late Rusty Moody in 2016. Fontenot, an independent, is being challenged by Democrat Tim Smith.
— Six candidates have qualified to challenge Opelousas Mayor Reggie Tatum’s second-term. Two of the candidates, Councilmen Julius Alsandor and Tyrone Glover, have often publicly feuded with the controversial mayor. Tatum, who was indicted in 2017 on 15 criminal charges by a St. Landry Parish grand jury, is awaiting trial.
— In Broussard, Mayor Charles Langlinais is retiring after seven terms in office. Councilman Ray Borque and another candidate, J.P. Morgan, are vying to succeed him.
— Carencro Mayor Glenn Brasseaux will be facing one of his predecessors on the fall ballot. Tommy Angelle, who was the city’s mayor from 1978 to 2003, is looking to reclaim his old job. Charlotte Stemmans Clavier, a former councilwoman and mayor pro-tem, also qualified.
— Church Point Mayor Russell Stelly has drawn three challengers, most notably Alderman Gene Malbrough.
— New Roads Mayor Anthony Daisy is seeking a full term after coming into office on the resignation of his predecessor, the target of a 2017 criminal probe. He is being challenged by local activist Cornell Dukes.
— In Hammond, Mayor Pete Panepinto is seeking his second term. Two first-time candidates are looking to unseat him.
— In Minden, first-time candidates Terry Gardner and Winky Newer are vying to succeed retiring Mayor Tommy Davis.
— Bogalusa Mayor Wendy O’Quin-Perrette will be in a tight re-election race. City Councilmen Brian McCree and Doug Ritchie will join former Mayor Mack McGehee and attorney Tina Ratliff on the ballot.
— Four candidates are looking to unseat Abita Springs Mayor Greg Lemons in his second-term bid. The challengers include Alderman Dan Curtis, who’s backed by the Alliance for Good Government, and John Preble, the noted local artist and founder of the town’s eccentric UCM museum.
— Harahan Mayor Tina Miceli will be up against longtime City Councilman Tim Baudier.
They Said It
“He was a sailor, and he could cuss with the best of them. But he was also a lovable guy.”
— U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, on the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, on Fox 44
“This is the most scrutinized project since riverboat gambling.”
— State Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, on medical marijuana, in The News-Star.
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.