Forget the Saints off-season. Pay no mind to HBO’s “Treme.”
Real New Orleanians are spending day and night anticipating the May 1 special election to fill the House District 93 seat in the Louisiana Legislature. That seat, which includes the Central Business District and parts of the French Quarter, Treme, Irish Channel, Garden District, Mid-City, and 7th Ward neighborhoods, was vacated when then-Speaker pro tem Karen Carter Peterson won Cheryl Gray Evans’ seat in the Louisiana Senate.
The special election has drawn six candidates, from former and aspiring public servants and small-time political puddle jumpers. The early voting period begins Saturday and lasts for one week.
The contenders include:
Louis Charbonnet III: Treme fixture and former representative in the Legislature.
Rhodesia Douglas: Freelance writer and neighborhood associationite
Carlos Hornbrook: Stockbroker with FSC Securities Corporation
James Perry: Fair housing advocate and recent candidate for mayor
Helena Moreno: Former news anchor, press flack for John Georges, and onetime candidate for Congress
Thomas Robichaux: Member of the Orleans Parish School Board
With the election set to fall at the height of their signature event, Jazz and Heritage Festival organizers must be shaking in their sandals.
Interestingly enough, while only four of six candidates have staked out any presence on the Internet, only Rhodesia Douglas has a Web site that includes a defined political platform. Even James Perry, who perhaps over-utilized the Internet in his campaign earlier this year, repurposed his mayoral campaign Web site without linking back to his former platform.
So it doesn’t look like this campaign is much about “the issues” and public persuasion. Instead, it looks like this election is going to come down to turnout and endorsements. That’s too bad because District 93 is home to the city’s commercial base, several of its keystone neighborhoods, and several controversial development projects. Meanwhile, New Orleanians will need an advocate as the Legislature poises to pare down spending to make up for a $300 million hole in the state budget.
Perry has lined up the endorsements of SEIU and the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, but Moreno and Charbonnet also have name recognition, and Charbonnet has a well-defined geographic base.
It’s tough to handicap the race because turnout is likely to be as low as can be.
I decided to try to track down the candidates to ask them what they would do to close the $319 million budget shortfall now facing legislators. I was able to reach three almost right away, and a fourth had a spokesman respond. Other responses will be posted as the come. I do think it is important to point out, to be fair, that these first two gentlemen answered my question off-the-cuff, whereas everyone else will have had time to more carefully consider their response.
“There’s a lot of waste inside the departments. We’ve got to cut the fat from the cow. One thing we should do is implement a zero-base budget process where departments would start from zero and build their department budgets up from scratch each year. We did that on the school board and have the first truly – not just nominally – balanced budget in 40 years.”
“It would be easy if people knew what they were doing. Because these national bond rating agencies like Moody’s and Standard &Poor’s have lost so much credibility because of what they did to contribute to the financial fiasco, the state should work to improve its own bond rating so that we can save money on financing charges on state debt. These guys were rating BBB bonds as AAA. If we got a higher bond rating, the interest money we’d save would make it so that we wouldn’t have to take a bite into the Stelly Plan or make cuts to education.
“I’m very conservative in that I won’t make final judgments until I’ve fully familiarized myself with this budget in particular and where we’re wasting. I want to make sure we’re not cutting education, healthcare, the arts, and maintaining our quality of life. My mom always told me not to live beyond my means and that must be what we’ve been doing. I don’t think tax raises should be the first solution, especially without seeing where we can save.”
Louis Charbonnet III (through a spokesperson via e-mail):
Unfortunately, District 93 has gone without a representative for most of the legislative session and the new representative will likely only be able to represent the district in the last 15 or so days of the legislative session. As an experienced legislator, I know that we will not be able to introduce new bills during this time. Therefore, I will have to support and sponsor existing bills that are being brought to the floor. As an experienced business person, I know when you are under budget restraints, you must look at your existing contracts, renegotiate where feasible, look at budgets of State entities and eliminate wasteful spending. I would encourage taking a look at four day work weeks for State employees where employees would not work less but will have ten hour days where on the off day there will be no janitors needed, no air conditioners, computers, or lights turned. Other States like Utah have been able to save millions with this approach. I also would encourage that we look at every State opening for positions to determine if they can remain unfilled and determine if we have any corporate tax loopholes that we can close.