Still more than three years out from the race to replace term-limited City-Parish President Joey Durel, possible candidates are already lining up. But have local politics become too expensive and contentious for an ‘everyman’ candidate? By Walter Pierce

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Rep. Joel Robideaux

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

State Rep. Joel Robideaux has three legislative sessions left before Louisiana’s term limit law draws a curtain on his tenure in the House of Representatives. It’s conceivable he could seek a move to the state Senate, but unlikely. He and first-term incumbent Page Cortez are close friends; the latter moving effortlessly last year from the House and into the term-limited Sen. Mike Michot’s seat without a challenge.

But with City-Parish President Joey Durel in his third and final term, Robideaux has his eye on an elective post that won’t require a commute to Baton Rouge. In fact, some political insiders in Lafayette say Robideaux, an independent-turned-Republican who made an unsuccessful bid for House speaker early this year, is a lock to run for city-parish president, a characterization the CPA by trade disputes — half-heartedly.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a lock, but it’s definitely something I’m considering,” Robideaux acknowledges. “I’m kind of a reluctant politician; I’d only do it if I thought I could move Lafayette forward.”

Plenty in Lafayette’s coterie of south side power brokers think Robideaux could indeed move Lafayette forward. His ability to build consensus in the House was heralded, and he admits he’s been approached about running and is talking about it with people he trusts.

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Don Bacque

If Robideaux decides against a run, former state Rep. Don Bacque is waiting in the wings. The insurance and financial planning consultant admits the job is attractive to him but says he’s also an admirer of Robideaux.

“I have given it thought and, candidly, I think Joel would make a wonderful candidate,” Bacque says, adding, “I would say that if there’s not a really, really good candidate I would be willing to run. But I think Joel would make a really good candidate.”

In other words, if Joel Robideaux isn’t a candidate, Don Bacque may well be.

Dee Stanley, LCG’s chief administrative officer, understands the workings of city-parish government better than anybody; department heads answer to him and he’s typically the administration representative explaining governmental minutia to council members on Tuesday nights. So it’s not surprising he’s eyeing his boss’ job, although he frames it like a true politician: “I’m obviously seriously interested, but I’m dedicated to the job I’m in now,” Stanley says. “There is plenty of time to discuss that. Joey is only six months into his last term. We have a lot to do between now and the end of his last term.”

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Dee Stanley

One source with a more than working knowledge of City Hall says Stanley is a good fit for the job, but he would have to adjust to ceding power to whomever replaces him as CAO, a position that commands a higher salary than C-P prez and has more responsibility.

“Dee is probably the one person who can easily raise the money and has the personality to do that type of campaigning,” says our source. “But he’d have to take positions. He’s famous for politicking and reaching consensus. The [city-parish president] job requires some hard decisions.”

Don Bertrand has had to make his share of hard decisions as a member of the City-Parish Council. A land man by day, he’s now in his second term and, no doubt like other fellow Republicans who are now considering a run for Durel’s job, decided it wasn’t worth challenging the incumbent last fall.

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Don Bertrand

“I’d be a liar if I said I hadn’t thought about it — seriously,” Bertrand admits. “I’ve given it serious thought, and we’ll see where that goes over the next year.”


ET TU, NORTH SIDE?

If the election were held today voters would likely be staring at a vanilla ballot — south side, moderate, Republican businessmen in the mold of Durel.

We’re still three years out, but so far there are no indications that a candidate from the north side — Upper Lafayette, in chamber of commerce parlance — is eyeing the race.

The one long shot would be Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, inarguably the most popular black politician in Lafayette, who says he’s been approached about making a run. “I typically don’t even think that far out,” he says. “What I tell people is, things have to be done at the right time for the right reason, and in my opinion we’ve been able to do some pretty good things in Lafayette over the last few years. Sometimes you can get more done at the legislative level as opposed to the executive level.”

Virtually all of our sources from every end of the parish agree, however, that a black candidate in Lafayette doesn’t stand a chance of answering the south side financial juggernaut represented by Durel, Robideaux, Bacque and others.

Jan Swift, executive director of the Upper Lafayette Economic Foundation, who as well as anyone has her finger on the pulse of the northern climes of Lafayette Parish, says no names have surfaced.

One name that has bounced around the politisphere is Councilman Jay Castille. He’s a respected real estate developer and city manager for Carencro. Castille says he’s considered making the run for the top elected post in city-parish gov, but is looking closer to home and will seek re-election to the council if Carencro Mayor Glenn Brasseaux seeks re-election. If Brasseaux decides to retire, Castille will likely seek the plush chair at Carencro City Hall.

“If [Brasseaux] doesn’t run I’ll nine out of 10 run for mayor of Carencro, and if he decides to run I’ll nine out of 10 run for City-Parish Council again,” Castille says. “I thought about the city-parish president’s race; I had a lot of support — had a lot of people calling. It’s just not really what I wanted to do.”

Back to the south side: Multiple sources have also told us that former state Sen. Mike Michot, now employed with The Picard Group, a governmental relations/lobbying firm, had a passing interest but will simply pass; being city-parish president would likely represent a considerable cut in income for the pol-turned-lobbyist.

One who has definitely removed himself from the conversation is Bruce Conque, a former District 6 councilman who is now vice president of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. Capable, civil and always prepared in his role as councilman, Conque was mulling a run but now says he’s “out” as a possible candidate for Durel’s job, adding that he’s happy with his job at the chamber, which gives him access to politics without the licks.

“The escalating costs of conducting a successful election campaign combined with the growing negativity of politics make seeking public office no longer a priority in my life,” he explains. “Fund-raising and the contentious nature of today’s ‘political games’ gave me pause as I did consider a run for parish president. My desire to again serve the public as an elected official was outweighed by the concern of the impact on my personal and professional life.”


‘US’ NOT ‘ME’

It may be a case of rose-colored lenses — anyone who remembers Mayor Kenny Bowen’s tenure knows politics in Lafayette can be a figurative contact sport — but several politically engaged residents believe Lafayette’s political life has become less than civil.

“I’m upset with the tone of government today in Lafayette,” says Bacque. “It seems too contentious; I don’t think it needs to be, and that disturbs me.”

From recent spats on the City-Parish Council over ending electronic traffic enforcement and, unbelievably, terminating curb-side recycling to the widely publicized disputes between Durel and Broussard Mayor Charlie Langlinais (with a dash of Youngsville Mayor Wilson Viator, Durel’s brother-in-law, sprinkled in as a binding agent), politics in Lafayette do seem to have taken a turn toward the acrimonious over the last few months.

“I find a lot of it distracting from where we really want to go,” admits Bertrand. “It’s all a matter of what people think is important. I don’t know how, nowadays, you can’t avoid a little bit of that going on... I think a lot of the contention going on has more to do with national politics and not local politics.”

Hammy Davis, a Lafayette commercial real estate agent/developer, was candid in a recent response to a business survey conducted by ABiz, The Ind’s monthly sister publication: “[W]e are seeing our local elected officials absolutely missing the necessity of harmony and cooperation,” Davis writes. “When businesses are looking to locate in a new community they can throw a community out of consideration quickly for reasons far smaller than issues we see our municipalities fighting over now. When you see political bodies solving problems with public relations firms and lawyers, we have a problem. ... Joey Durel, Charles Langlinais and Wilson Viator have been exceptional public servants for their communities. The common trait for these men has been consensus building and cooperation. However, to a man, they have lost their way.”

Conque and Bacque were friendly foils last year as they made the rounds stumping for their respective positions on deconsolidation — Conque was in favor, Bacque opposed. The pair toured the parish, speaking to city councils, civic clubs and anyone who cared about the issue. And they did it civilly, respectful of their differing views. Bacque says respect for political adversaries is sorely lacking in Lafayette today.

“I think they have to build bridges,” Bacque says. “Government is not a ‘me’ thing; it’s an ‘us’ thing. Everyone on the council is part of government and everyone on the council deserves respect and deserves recognition and deserves to have their voice heard. There’s going to be differences of opinion, and you have differences of opinion without it being contentious.”


BIG SPENDER

Whoever is serious about the job, Lafayette political insiders say, will have to raise upwards of half a million dollars — a Solomon’s treasure for a parish-wide elected position. Winning an election, even in a Louisiana parish, takes more than just name recognition and — perish the thought! — being qualified for the job.

“It’s kind of tough if you don’t have the money behind you to push that election,” Castille notes. “I don’t know if I could raise the type of money that’ll be needed to run that kind of race. You’re going to need 400 grand to 500 grand to do what you need to do. Hard to believe, huh?”

That’s why, according to Castille and others, the race to replace Durel will likely be much about money. Who can raise the most?

“That’s the bottom line: whether or not you have the support you need for that type of election,” says Bertrand. “But when I say support, you have to have financial support, number one — it takes a lot of money to run a campaign like that — and you have to have the support of the community.

“I’m sure everyone who is thinking of this will have their toe in the water for the next six months to a year.”

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