Candidates from all around Louisiana have begun qualifying for a smorgasbord of different elections that touch on nearly every level of government, from local to federal. According to Meg Casper, the communications director for the secretary of state’s office, there could be as many as 475 Louisiana races on the Nov. 8 ballot. Qualifying began Wednesday, July 20, and will end on Friday, July 22. The process will determine exactly how many of those 475 races end up on the ballot. During last year’s round of qualifying, more officials were elected without opposition than at any other time in recent history, Secretary of State Tom Schedler said. The top of the November ballot belongs to the developing presidential contest. The Republican Party met in Cleveland on July 18 to begin its convention to select its official nominee. The Democratic Party will gather in Philadelphia, beginning July 25, to do the same. The premier race for Louisiana politics, however, is that for the seat being vacated by senior U.S. Sen. David Vitter. It’s expected to draw a large field of contenders and, in turn, create two vacancies in congressional districts. Running in the open U.S. Senate race will be Congressman Charles Boustany of Lafayette from the 3rd Congressional District and Congressman John Fleming of Minden from the 4th Congressional District. Candidates have already started lining up for those elections and both should create competitive congressional races. Congressman Cedric Richmond in the 2nd Congressional District may also have an opponent in Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, who has said he intends to run. There will be two elections for the Louisiana Supreme Court, three court of appeal races and three district judge contests. There will be only one election for the state Legislature — for a House seat based in Jefferson Parish. And two posts on the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, are up for grabs. In addition, there will be a slew of local races for mayoral positions, city councils, parish councils and other elected seats. Runoffs, as they are needed, are scheduled for Dec. 10.
Sterling Shooting Sparks Holden Questions
The police shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge has activists and community leaders asking why Mayor-President Kip Holden hasn’t been as visible as other elected officials in the region and why he didn’t immediately contact the families involved. Holden told reporters he was in Washington, D.C., working to secure federal transportation funding for East Baton Rouge parish. He also said he intends to qualify for the 2nd Congressional District race this fall to oppose Congressman Cedric Richmond of New Orleans. Richmond was on the scene shortly after the shooting. He initially called for a federal investigation of the shooting. In recent days some protestors, led by community activist Arthur “Silky Slim” Reed, have begun calling for Holden’s resignation.
Education Officials Face Tuition Issues
As voters prepare to decide on the Nov. 8 ballot whether university systems in Louisiana should be allowed to set their own tuition, officials on the community and technical college level have already made a decision not to increase rates. The constitutional amendment on the fall ballot applies only to four-year colleges and universities. Lawmakers approved the proposed amendment during their regular session earlier this year. Sen. Blade Morrish, R-Jennings, who authored the proposed amendment, said Louisiana and Florida are the only states that do not provide university systems autonomy on this issue. Proponents contend years of budget cuts have brought education officials to this point, and future autonomy could help them better address budget shortfalls. The Louisiana Community and Technical College System Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, recently announced it will not impose a tuition increase for the 2016-17 school year. This marks the first time in five years that LCTCS students will not face an increase. The LCTCS board will not be affected by the proposed constitutional amendment. But its action may be an early sign of what happens when the governor and Legislature pass a budget that funds higher education close to the same level as the previous year. “After years of increasing tuition, the board felt this was the right thing to do for our students,” said LCTCS Board Chairman Woody Oge. “Despite rising costs, we have an obligation to uphold our mission of open access and workforce development.” The LCTCS board, however, did approve a set of new fees that students will have to pay. There are two “policy-driven fees” based on national “best practices” — an excess credit hour fee and a compressed program fee. The latter relates to programs that are required to meet the immediate workforce needs of business and industry.
Governor Transitions From Sessions
With three lawmaking sessions of the Legislature behind him, you can expect Gov. John Bel Edwards to start focusing on policies and politics of his own, beginning with the state’s Medicaid expansion. Edwards triggered the expansion when he was sworn into office and the new program went into effect on July 1. More than 235,000 people in the state have been enrolled. “Expanding Medicaid in Louisiana was the easiest decision I’ve made since taking office in January. I meet people from all walks of life who will be positively impacted by expansion,” said Edwards. Adults who earn up to $16,395 a year and a family of four that brings in $33,534 annually are now eligible for insurance through Medicaid. Services that are covered include doctor and hospital visits; emergency services; laboratory and x-ray services; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance abuse treatment; prescription drugs and others. According to the Dept. of Health, the Medicaid expansion could cover at least 375,000 newly eligible adults. That would reduce the rate of the uninsured in Louisiana from 13 to 8 percent. But it’s going to be a long road that will take up a great deal of the governor’s attention. Challenges will include ensuring that the funding will be there in the future; making sure people go to primary care providers rather than hospitals; and helping the state’s safety net hospitals transition into this new way of doing things. On another policy front, top staffers expect Edwards to start sending out messages on transportation issues very soon. A large cash infusion from the federal government is expected. Like the Medicaid expansion, it’s part of a pot of money that former Gov. Bobby Jindal refused to tap into. It could lead to immediate construction projects in the Capital Region. All of this will play out as Transportation Sec. Shawn Wilson and a new task force start working on identifying priority projects and making recommendations. What could create interest among lawmakers is the fact that the federal money that’s expected to arrive could free up other cash elsewhere in the transportation budget. On the campaign side for Edwards, Emilie Tenenbaum has been brought in to oversee fundraising. Her appeals are expected to be aggressive. The governor is working toward a “very strong number” to post in 2017, according to his campaign team. He recently joked with reporters that he will indeed be running for re-election, although that announcement hasn’t been officially made with the usual pomp and circumstance. Tenenbaum arrives via the New Orleans Business Alliance. She was previously the state campaign finance director for former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. She was also the national campaign finance director for former Congressman Charlie Melancon in his 2010 U.S. Senate bid.
Parish President’s Race Starts Soon
The death of Plaquemines Parish President Amos Cormier has created an open election on the Nov. 8 ballot. The race could pull in a state lawmaker. Local politicos say Rep. Chris Leopold, a Republican from Belle Chasse, is being encouraged to look at the race. Should he make the leap, Leopold won’t be alone. A sizable field is expected. Parish Council Chairman Kirk Lepine, who temporarily took over day-to-day duties for Cormier, is said to be receiving encouragement as well. So is former state Rep. Benny Rousselle and attorney Amos Cormier III. Edward Theriot, the director of administration for Plaquemines Parish, has already been sworn in as interim parish president.
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