CoverWednesday, October 19, 2011

The following Election Day tip sheet was compiled by The Ind’s staff using insight from more than a dozen former politicians, local officials and longtime political observers. The nine races covered don’t represent all elections on the ballot but do provide an inside look at some of the hottest races to watch.

Senate District 24
Elbert Guillory, incumbent
Don Cravins
Kelly Scott

One of the most unpredictable races on the ballot, the “real battleground” for incumbent state Sen. Elbert Guillory and Opelousas Mayor Don Cravins, who held the District 24 seat for 15 years until 2006, is a new bloc of Carencro voters drawn into the district with this year’s redistricting process.

“I don’t think anybody in Opelousas is undecided. Either you’re pro-Guillory or pro-Cravins,” one longtime politico says.
But coupled with the backing of the Chris Williams camp, Cravins’ well-established ties to north Lafayette give the Cravins campaign a slight edge. It’s also been repeatedly noted that support for Cravins is split in Carencro, with some officials backing Cravins and other top Carencro officials backing Guillory.

A legislative audit uncovering unethical and potentially criminal issues with the Cravins administration in Opelousas, as well as his role in the Opelousas Housing Authority fiasco, could significantly hurt Cravins among white voters. But the mismanagement allegations haven’t done much to sway longtime backers of the Cravins dynasty, and Guillory’s work in bringing the audit’s findings to light has only made public enemies out of the two candidates. Scott ran unsuccessfully against Guillory in 2009 and is expected to have a weak showing at the polls.

“The people that hate Cravins in Opelousas are supporting him to get rid of him, to send him back to Baton Rouge,” says one north Lafayette political observer.

And as Cravins proclaimed at a recent political rally he held at The Hall on Gloria Switch Road, north Lafayette Parish is a voting bloc that Guillory tried to erase from District 24 during the redistricting process.

“It’s good to be back home ladies and gentlemen,” Cravins told the crowd gathered at The Hall Oct. 13. “I know y’all missed me. I can feel the love.”

Worth Noting: Cravins has more than three years left in his second term as mayor of Opelousas, which could explain why Cravins is said to be viewing this race as a “freebie.” Unless the rumored federal investigation into Cravins prematurely ends his days as mayor of Opelousas, it’s unlikely that the political influence of the Cravins family will suddenly implode if Guillory secures another term in District 24.

House District 44
Rickey Hardy, incumbent
Roshelle Jones
Vincent Pierre

Incumbent state Rep. Rickey Hardy came out swinging (literally) in September when he made his re-election bid official, but the biggest factor in this “race to watch” isn’t even listed on the ballot. Former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams, who was defeated by Hardy in the District 44 House race in 2007, is again snaking his way through the political process and making the outcome hard for local politicos to grasp.

Pierre’s association with Williams is “nitroglycerine in the white community of Lafayette,” says one observer, but whether the white vote will be as influential on election day this year as it was in 2007 is still unknown. “Rickey took advantage of the white vote. But in the [2007] primary, Rickey didn’t siphon off any more of the white vote than any other candidate running against Williams. It was the white voters’ disdain for Williams that got Rickey elected. He doesn’t necessarily have that this go around,”

One bone of contention for black voters is Hardy’s legislative vote in favor of consolidating historically black Southern University of New Orleans with UNO. It’s a line being thrown against Hardy at every corner, adding insult to Hardy’s already injured reputation among those who took issue with Hardy’s tenure on the Lafayette Parish School Board.

“Everyone connected to bus drivers, education, school board, anything, they’re all sharpening their knives to stick in Rickey Hardy’s back because of his insistence on doing things the right way at the school board. I don’t know if Rickey can overcome this,” says one elected official.

Likening the Williams-Pierre-Cravins political dominance to a machine that’s on its last leg, one north Lafayette insider speculates that another win for Hardy could be the final blow for northside politics of old.

“Cravins isn’t just running to beat Guillory. He’s running to get people to the polls against Rickey Hardy. If [Cravins and Pierre] get beat this time, it’s over — for all of them.”

Worth Noting: One north Lafayette political observer says Jones’ entry into the District 44 race could be an attempt to gain name recognition ahead of her future bid for District Judge Ed Rubin’s seat.

Lafayette City-Parish Council District 1
Kevin Naquin
John “Jay” Caldwell

One of only a few open races on the ballot, all indicators are pointing to Cajun musician Kevin Naquin as the clear favorite in this race.
“The community would be well-served by either candidate,” says one of several panelists interviewed, but others quickly point out that “Naquin has been attending council meetings since last November, trying to bone up on government. He seems to have a good grasp of the process.”

Worth Noting: Jay Caldwell is the son-in-law of the late Fernand Stutes, a longtime Justice of the Peace and owner of a famous bar, restaurant and barber shop at the corner of Ridge Road and what’s now Ambassador Caffery.

Lafayette City-Parish Council District 3
Brandon Shelvin, incumbent
Lloyd Rochon

Brandon Shelvin, the incumbent councilman with endless financial, legal and ethical troubles, is projected to win another term in office.

It’s a perplexing prediction, one we hope will be proven wrong. Despite widespread media coverage on Shelvin’s questionable actions, Shelvin, according to political observers, rests comfortably on the assertion that “his consituents don’t read The Independent, or likely even the dailies.”

“His constituents are largely unaware, and even if they are, Brandon can play the ‘held down by the man’ race card and it will be effective,” says one of several sources polled.

Shelvin has a long list of big-name contributors to thank this election cycle, including Sheriff Mike Neustrom and former U.S. Attorney Mike Skinner. But the affluent in Lafayette who cushioned his campaign coffers won’t be casting Shelvin’s winning votes. His re-election, if successful, can be attributed to the poverty-stricken voters in his largely disenfranchised district, the people who “know Brandon, trust Brandon.”

“As long as they’re down and out ... Brandon’s got a job,” says one former Shelvin supporter.

What more than one politico sees in challenger Rochon is a perceived personality flaw, somewhat of a “chip on his shoulder” that makes him less appealing to the district’s mostly minority voters. But an overwhelming majority of political panelists immediately brush those characterizations aside, calling Rochon’s “straightforward” approach (he has a military background) something that’s easily misunderstood.

What may be the only factor to change the favorite in this race is the turnout of white voters expected to support Rochon.

“A higher white turnout could be a factor in these,” says one political insider. “The white turnout, although smaller in numerosity, could turn out significantly higher, which could dilute the fact that it’s a majority black district.”

Worth Noting: “Brandon Shelvin is the most corrupt politician I’ve ever seen. Ever. Period.”

Lafayette City-Parish Council District 5
Jared Bellard, incumbent
Britt Latiolais

“Bellard is in trouble.”

That’s the general consensus among numerous political observers with ties to District 5, where Bellard’s opponent, Latiolais, has been “pounding the pavement with a grassroots campaign.”

“Bellard is just a guy who’s done nothing, voted nothing, been for nothing, and nobody really cares,” says one Lafayette politician.

“But everybody in the know, everyone interested and politically connected, has wondered if people in the Scott area want to have a representative on the council or not. I would venture to say there aren’t 10 people in his district who can say his position on anything.”

Some say Bellard’s incumbent advantage and the backing of the Tea Party of Lafayette could prove more influential than originally believed, but others say those same two factors will only hamper his chances on election day.

Notes one former elected official: “Not wanting to work with the council and administration has come back to hurt District 5 because he’s been so intrinsic in some of his positions. Money hasn’t been released for projects. Those things hurt the district.”

Worth Noting: Latiolais is self-described on his Facebook page as the Acadiana High “football Voice of the Rams.”

Lafayette City-Parish Council District 6
Jared Doise
“Sam” Dore, incumbent
André “Andy” Naquin

What was initially expected to be a close victory for incumbent Doré over Tea Party favorite Naquin has been thrown a curve with the addition of Legends bar owner Jared Doise’s name on the ballot.

“Doise is impressive,” says one source. “He’s enthusiastic and energetic, and has more knowledge about government than Naquin.”

Doré, who has proven himself as a silent observer on the City-Parish Council, has been coined as “possibly the weakest representative to ever serve the district.” But several sources also counter that Doré has built a relatively loyal following among many voters in District 6, which pits Doré as the likely winner in a runoff.

“Naquin has his name out there, but Jared Doise is 36 years old, very smart and making his presence known,” says one Lafayette official.

Worth Noting: “Sam Dore is telling everyone there will be no runoff. I think he’s trying to convince himself.”

Lafayette City-Parish Council District 7
Joan Beduze
Don Bertrand, incumbent
J.P. Morgan

Bertrand is expected to enjoy a relatively easy path to victory here, having generated the most in contributions and a who’s-who of big time Lafayette and south Louisiana political support including all of south Lafayette’s legislative delegation, but one elected official from the area doesn’t believe he’ll sail into re-election without a runoff, likely with Beduze, who is running at Bertrand from his ideological right.

Bertrand scored some points recently with his attempt to broker a solution to the water issues in Shenandoah Estates, although at the same time he lost some traction with some residents/business owners with the Bendel roundabout, which was roundly mischaracterized and misunderstood by neighbors and business owners: the only proposal was to study the feasibility of a roundabout at Bendel/South College.

Worth Noting: “I think Bertrand wins unless it’s a tidal wave of Tea Party activity, and I don’t see that happening; the only person not standing next to him is the kitchen sink.”

Lafayette City-Parish Council District 8
Keith Patin, incumbent
Craig Spikes

Another tough race to call — Republican incumbent Patin looked early like he would sail into office unopposed. In fact, Spikes, a Lafayette businessman with no ties to a political party, intended to challenge Don Bertrand in District 7, but the redrawing of districts last spring shifted the lines and he unwittingly wound up in Patin’s south Lafayette district. It may not be such a bad thing from Spikes’ perspective.

While he has run a low-key race, Spikes has picked up the endorsement of the Tea Party of Lafayette, and his Fatima connections tie to him a lot of influential people in the district. “Craig is saying all the things he thinks residents want to hear about small government, and he has some name recognition from his guest columns in The Daily Advertiser,” observes one politically connected District 8 resident, who wouldn’t be surprised if Spikes ekes out a narrow win.

Worth Noting: More than one observer in the district says this race could be a referendum in Lafayette’s most prosperous district on City-Parish President Joey Durel’s leadership, especially initiatives such as arts funding, the horse farm, RedFlex and tax increment finance districts, all of which Patin has largely embraced.

Lafayette City-Parish Council District 9
Walter Campbell
William Theriot, incumbent

Don’t discount the power of incumbency in this race. Like Bellard, Theriot is known more for what he’s against than what he’s for, but he generated a lot of contributions on his most recent Ethics report, although the high frequency of $25 donations — the vast majority of donations in fact — suggests that support is tepid at best.

“Walter is the most prepared and knowledgeable candidate who isn’t an incumbent,” says one source, who believes Theriot will nonetheless win, based in large part on campaign signs in private residences and businesses in District 9, which overwhelmingly favor the incumbent.

Theriot’s vote backing the city of Lafayette in the annexation litigation involving Broussard will hurt him in Broussard, says another, but Broussard comprises only a small part of the district.

Worth Noting: “Theriot works for government in private business [as manager for the Milton Water District] and in his public business as a councilman, but hates the government. I think Campbell has a chance; I just don’t know if he’s been able to make enough in-roads.”


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