If you went to the polls to vote last Saturday, there was a good chance you saw signs for Nancy Landry. Despite not being on the ballot that day, Landry had more signs out (about 500) than some candidates who were. In fact, Landry, who’s running in the special election to replace District 31 state Rep. Don Trahan, hadn’t even qualified as a candidate yet for her race. Nobody had. Qualifying for District 31 opened on Monday, Oct. 6, running through 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 8.
Following Trahan’s resignation from the state Legislature last week, Speaker of the House Jim Tucker called a special election for District 31 to be held on Nov. 4, coinciding with the presidential election. A runoff, if necessary, will be held Dec. 6. For Landry, who ran against Trahan last year for the District 31 seat, getting signs out was only a matter of pulling them from storage, and the move clearly demonstrated the advantage Landry has going into the short, month-long special election race.
While it is more cost-effective for taxpayers to hold special elections in conjunction with regular elections, and the Nov. 4 ballot should draw a heavy voter turnout, the election poses a significant challenge for any new or relatively unknown candidate. Some have skeptically eyed the short election as a political decision favoring Landry. Louisiana law gives wide discretion to both the speaker of the house and the senate president in calling special elections for state legislative offices.
“The election being called so quickly is really an issue that favors Nancy Landry,” says local attorney Lester Gauthier, who formerly hosted political talk shows on both KPEL radio and Acadiana Open Channel. “Nancy Landry has run already within the last year, and she has already spent the money and has campaign stuff printed.”
As of press time Monday, Landry’s only announced challenger was Maurice businessman Troy Theriot. Originally from Erath, Theriot is not well known in Lafayette Parish, which has 80 percent of District 31’s voters. The district covers south Lafayette, including the Broadmoor and Greenbriar subdivisions, Scott, Milton, and Maurice in northern Vermilion Parish.
Theriot worked on both of Don Trahan’s state representative campaigns and ran his own campaign for state representative of District 47 in 1999. (In 2003, redistricting placed Theriot’s Maurice home in District 31). Theriot garnered 41 percent of the vote in a losing effort against incumbent Mickey Frith. A 38-year-old Republican who operates an oilfield supply boat business, Theriot pitches himself as a hard-working small business owner who wants to get critical coastal erosion and road projects on the fast track. “I’ve been in the oil industry all my life, since I graduated high school,” he says. “I don’t have a [college] degree, just a degree in hard knocks and experience.”
Theriot is backed by his ally, Democratic state Sen. Nick Gautreaux of Abbeville. Theriot faces an uphill struggle against Landry, who fell just 33 votes shy of Trahan in last year’s election. Landry impressed voters by outworking the Republican incumbent Trahan, walking the district touting ethics reform and support for gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal. She also outraised Trahan nearly two to one, and spent almost $150,000 on the race, including seven months’ worth of TV spots. Since her run last year, Landry has launched her own public relations and lobbying firm, Pelican Strategies. Among other things, she hosted a fund-raiser that brought in upwards of $100,000 for Lafayette state Sen. Mike Michot and managed the re-election campaign for local Judge Phyllis Keaty, whom she previously worked for as a law clerk. Keaty did not face opposition, but Landry still helped her raise just under $100,000.
A Lafayette native, who spent years in Washington state, Landry is a divorced single mother with two sons — an experience she hasn’t shied away from in her campaign for public office. “It’s made me a stronger person,” she told The Independent Weekly last year. “Everybody’s had their family troubles and personal difficulties. I think what sets people apart is how you handle it and what you do with that experience. Do you help other people with it or do you brush it under the rug?”
Unlike last year, when she ran as an independent, Landry is entering this year’s race as a Republican. She officially changed her party affiliation at the parish courthouse last week, flanked by high-profile Republican supporters including Michot, state Rep. Page Cortez and city-parish councilmen Keith Patin and Jared Bellard.
The party switch wasn’t a surprise. Many political observers deduced Landry would have defeated Trahan last year had she had an “R” behind her name on the ballot. In that race, balancing her independent party affiliation with her avid support for GOP torchbearer Jindal at times proved difficult; at one Jindal campaign rally in Lafayette, organizers instructed Landry not to pass out her campaign fliers.
In her press release announcing the decision, Landry says she could have be a more effective bipartisan legislator as an independent but adds: “I have been very impressed by the work of the Governor and House Speaker Tucker in working across party lines to advance a reform agenda for Louisiana. I look forward to working for Louisiana’s future with the administration, legislative leaders, and our area delegation. I am convinced I can be most effective for the issues I am committed to as a Republican.”
As of press time Monday, at least one other potential candidate was strongly considering the District 31 race. Charlie Buckels, vice chairman of the state Republican Party, has longed for another shot at the seat since losing by 13 votes in 2003 to Trahan. Buckels’ position with the state party kept him from challenging Trahan, an incumbent Republican, again last year. “There’s a lot of a considerations,” Buckels said on Monday. “If I do something like this, I will not do it half-heartedly; it’ll be diving in with everything I have.” Some obvious considerations for Buckels will be a conflict of interest that could arise from his current job as a regional salesman and state lobbyist for Redflex Inc., the company that operates automated traffic camera programs in Lafayette and Mandeville. Buckels also may have to step down from his elected post with the state Republican Party.
Two other potential candidates eyeing the race, former city-parish councilmen Lenwood Broussard and Rob Stevenson, told The Independent they would not be running. Former Councilman Randy Menard is leaning against a run but says he will make a final decision after he sees who else has qualified.
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Dr. Joshua Caffery, chair of the school’s English Department, is headed to Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress as the latest winner of the Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies.