TIME TO TAKE THE GLOVES OFF
Or, in the case of Lafayette’s most colorful and quotable state representative, to put them on
By Walter Pierce
Photos by Robin May
This being a year in which statewide offices are chosen and constitutional amendments as well as two local and very important propositions are decided, the Oct. 22 ballot before voters will be a long one. But that doesn’t mean political junkies will get their fix.
A sliver of voters in north Lafayette can anticipate a good, old-fashioned brawl in the races for Senate District 24 and House District 44. In the former, incumbent Sen. Elbert Guillory goes against Opelousas Mayor Don Cravins, who held the Senate seat previously and whose wife Patricia was defeated by Guillory two and a half years ago in a special election. In the latter, incumbent Rep. Rickey Hardy is up against Vincent Pierre, whose uncle, Wilfred, previously held the seat and who for most intents and purposes represents the old-school black political establishment in Lafayette that Hardy defeated four years ago.
THE UNCHALLENGED: City-Parish Councilmen Jay Castille and Kenneth Boudreaux, above, along with state Sen.-elect Page Cortez, Rep. Nancy Landry and Rep.-elect Stuart Bishop have an easy path to victory on Oct. 22: no opponents.
So far, so good. But for many in Lafayette Parish, the political gods didn’t exactly crank the excitement knob.
Working your way top to bottom among candidates, in fact, there will be several races — both statewide posts and within the parish — that won’t be on the ballot at all because only one candidate, typically the incumbent, is the only person to qualify for the race. And as the trend of Lafayette Parish becoming more conservative continues, this lack of competition could become the norm rather than the exception.
“I think that the districts that are drawn are more ideologically consistent than ever,” says Pearson Cross, a UL Lafayette political science professor. “We just went through a redistricting process, which has something to do with it. The second thing that has to do with it is Republicans are becoming so much more homogenous in terms of being conservatives... As a result, there’s no real sense in running against someone who feels the same way you do about most issues, unless it’s strictly about wanting the position.”
Working our way down the list of 37 statewide, parishwide and local seats up for grabs in Lafayette Parish on Oct. 22, there are 12 seats for which no election will be held because only one candidate qualified. That’s nearly a third.
State Treasurer John Kennedy can fold his wallet — he’s in without a fight. So too are state Sens. Fred Mills and Jonathan Perry, state Reps. Nancy Landry and Taylor Barras, Tax Assessor Conrad Comeaux, Clerk of Court Louis Perret, Coroner Kenneth Odinet and councilmen Kenneth Boudreaux and Jay Castille. State Rep. Page Cortez, meanwhile, gets to slide over to the Senate without a competitor while political rookie Stuart Bishop walks into Cortez’s House seat unscathed.
“Term limits now make it more likely that with these legislative seats people will wait until there’s an open seat,” adds Cross. “So people who want to run are saying, ‘Well, I’ll hang out a little bit and maybe have an open seat or a special election or won’t have to run against an incumbent.’”
Shortly before qualifying closed last Thursday, District 3 City-Parish Councilman Brandon Shelvin was blindsided by a formidable opponent.
(Truth be told, the embattled councilman knew someone would challenge him, because we’d told him so. Our sources say he just didn’t know who.)
Carencro City Manager Lloyd Rochon, who vied for the District 3 City-Parish Council seat four years ago, qualified for the post Thursday afternoon. And while he insists he will run on his credentials and his desire to serve, Rochon says he has long vowed not to let Shelvin walk back into office. When it appeared that the controversial first-term councilman may have no opposition, Rochon says his wife, Eva Dell, also stepped up to the challenge and encouraged him to seek the seat once again.
Largely an unknown candidate — but backed by a faction of the black community that included then-influential KJCB radio — Shelvin ran first among a field of five in the 2007 primary, and Rochon received 15 percent of the vote, losing a runoff spot to Shawn Wilson’s 18 percent.
In the general election, Wilson was defeated by Shelvin, who garnered 57 percent of the vote. It’s been all downhill since for Shelvin, who — elected at 30 years old — became the youngest person to serve on Lafayette’s consolidated council.
Saying he wants the opportunity to help move District 3 forward, Rochon does believe Shelvin’s character will be an issue this time around. “People know [Shelvin] now, and they also know me. So they have a clear choice,” Rochon says.
“When people elect a person as a council member, they put their sacred trust in that individual,” Rochon continues. “And when a person betrays that trust, they should be replaced. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Rochon, who retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1977 after 22 years, has a long history of government involvement. “My résumé speaks for itself,” he says. Rochon worked as a communications consultant for South Central Bell for a short time and was director of federal programs for the Lafayette Parish Police Jury from 1979 until 1984, when parish government was formed and he became the first and only person to serve as clerk of the Lafayette Parish Council. After consolidation of city and parish governments in 1996, he took over as clerk of the Lafayette City-Parish Council, retiring in 2001. Within six months Rochon says he was antsy and wanted to be back at work. He immediately accepted a newly created position with the city of Carencro administration, a post he plans to keep if elected. In 2007 Rochon sought an opinion from the Louisiana Attorney General that cleared him to keep his job if he were elected to the council.
Rochon is a charter member of the St. Anthony’s Knights of Peter Claver and a past state president of the local organization of black Catholic men. He also received the Martin Luther King Jr. award from the Diocese of Lafayette in 1992.
Whether having an opponent in the campaign will force Shelvin to answer troubling questions about his judgment, ethics and truthfulness remains to be seen. Read the long, sordid history of the first-term District 3 councilman’s manipulation of the residency requirement for seeking the District 3 seat in 2007, abuse of his council seat, theft of extended warranty money from local residents who purchased used vehicles from him, and his ongoing legal woes at www.theind.com. Just type Brandon Shelvin in the search engine.
HARDY COMES OUT SWINGING
The Lafayette rep shows an Ali-esque flair for showmanship.
Rep. Rickey Hardy, D-Lafayette, was among the first round of candidates to qualify last Tuesday morning at the Clerk of Court’s office downtown. But unlike his buttoned-down fellow politicos, Hardy put his wardrobe where his mouth normally is: way out there.
The first-term pol showed up in pugilist-themed attire: sweat pants, an athletic shirt and, glaringly and with abundant humor, boxing gloves. Slogans on the gloves read, “Fight Corruption” and “and Raising Standards.” Unfortunately, Hardy had to remove the right glove to sign his qualifying papers, leaving him vulnerable to a left hook.
But the slogans were appropriate: While Hardy has sponsored or co-sponsored his share of hair-brained legislation in his four years in Baton Rouge — bills to bar senior citizens from seeking office and requiring state welfare recipients to take drug tests come immediately to mind — he has been a color-blind champion of stamping out corruption in Lafayette’s wonderland of quasi-governmental agencies and for increasing the academic standards required for participation in high school athletics. His contribution to blowing the lid on mismanagement and apparent fraud at the Lafayette Housing Authority led to a federal take-over of the agency and the canning and/or resignation of several executives and board members. The LHA imbroglio also exposed what by most rational minds would be considered at the least malfeasance in the conduct of the agency’s Disaster Housing Assistance Program, for which former City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams served as a case manager. And this is where the race gets interesting:
Hardy, a former four-term Lafayette Parish School Board member, defeated Williams in a 2007 runoff for the District 22 seat. The two were vying to replace term-limited state Rep. Wilfred Pierre, whose nephew, Vincent Pierre, is Hardy’s main challenger in the Oct. 22 election. (A third candidate, Democrat Roshell Jones, is also running.)
In that 2007 election, Hardy captured just enough of the black vote — Williams got most of it — to pair with overwhelming support from white voters in the district to carry the day. Expect a similar dynamic this time around, with Hardy and Pierre straddling a fissure in black leadership in north Lafayette.
And if Hardy’s planning the old rope-a-dope strategy, he better be ready for some counter punches. — WP
ELBERT V. THE MACHINE REDUX
State Sen. Elbert Guillory dealt a blow to the Cravins dynasty in 2009, but the patriarch is back with a vengeance.
Elbert Guillory took on the Cravins machine in 2009 and dismantled it. But this time around, with new district lines that could favor his opponent, Guillory may have a much tougher battle on his hands.
Former state Sen. Don Cravins Sr., now the mayor of Opelousas, is challenging Guillory for his old seat in the Legislature — a seat that changed substantially with legislative redistricting after the 2010 Census. With Guillory closely involved in the redrawing, District 24 lost some of its St. Landry Parish territory and shifted into northeastern Lafayette Parish, including Carencro, and St. Martin parish, taking in the western part of Breaux Bridge.
UL Lafayette Political Science Professor Pearson Cross believes the inclusion of north Lafayette may benefit Cravins. “If it were in the previous district, as I understand it, the favorite in the race would be the incumbent. But the district has been expanded south into northern Lafayette where I think Cravins is somewhat more popular.”
The district, however, has also taken in Port Barre, Melville and Leonville, along with more of Guillory’s home base of Lawtell, as well as Lewisburg. He’s likely to run strong in those areas and among whites, who constitute about 45 percent of District 24. Guillory has aligned himself with the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative religious group with growing influence in state politics. “That is really going to be the question, in terms of the vote breaking down: Are white voters going to be more likely to support Guillory because of his association with Louisiana Family Forum?” asks Cross.
The UL prof stresses that it’s too soon to identify a frontrunner in this Dem v Dem battle. “Right now it’s hard to say who the favorite in it is. The similarities between the two candidates are definitely striking in the sense that they are both African-American gentlemen in their 60s with quite of bit of political experience under their belts who have won election to that same Senate seat before.”
Cravins was replaced in the Senate by his son, Don Cravins Jr., in 2006 after the elder Cravins was elected mayor of Opelousas. When Cravins Jr. resigned three years later to accept a position with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in D.C., his mother and Cravins Sr.’s wife, Patricia, vied to keep the seat in the family. She was soundly defeated in a 2009 runoff by Guillory, who got 62 percent of the vote.
The longshot in the race, Kelly Scott, who also ran in the 2009 primary, could send Guillory and Cravins into a runoff if he pulls enough votes to deny one of them 50 percent of the vote.
Regardless of what Cravins might say are his reasons for running — he did not return a phone call seeking comment — he no doubt has a score to settle with Guillory, who teamed up with the mayor’s political enemies earlier this year to appoint themselves to a task force to review blistering state legislative audits of the Opelousas Housing Authority, where Cravins wielded significant influence before the FBI started investigating, and the city of Opelousas. The latter was particularly critical of how Cravins runs the city — payroll fraud by a department director, bid law violations, free rent of public buildings for city employees, poor controls, no controls — and his foes pounced on him when it was released in early August.
Never one to back down, Cravins is fighting back. “This race is going to be a real tightly fought, barn-burner type race,” Cross says. — LT
CAN BOFFY BOUNCE BAYARD?
Former Teacher of the Year seeks state school board seat.
Louisiana’s 2010 Teacher of the Year, Holly Boffy has her work cut out for her. Embracing a controversial position early on that the tenure system for public school teachers should be abolished — this will not endear her to the powerful teacher unions in Louisiana — Boffy hopes to unseat an entrenched incumbent in Dale Bayard, who switched political parties at the right time and who is likely to get the backing of the state’s most powerful Christian lobbying group.
Bayard has been a voice on BESE for Louisiana Family Forum, the religious right lobbying group that wants desperately to bring Louisiana back to a bucolic era that never actually existed. He was the lone vote last year for rejecting mainstream science textbooks that teach evolution and more importantly don’t teach Intelligent Design, the creationist-friendly pseudo-science.
Bayard was first elected to BESE’s District 7 seat in 1999. He ran unopposed in 2003. Since his victory in the 2007 election, Bayard has switched to the Republican Party — an act of survival these days for Democrats looking to manage multi-parish races. Four years ago, running as a Dem, Bayard lost badly in Lafayette Parish, the easternmost outpost of the southwest Louisiana District, to Republican and former state party Chairman Charlie Buckels of Lafayette. But the farther west toward his home turf in Calcasieu Parish the race went, the better Bayard did: He and Buckels split Acadia Parish 50-50; but Bayard wiped the floor with Buckels in Jefferson Davis, Cameron and Calcasieu with 63, 64 and 61 percent of the vote respectively, eking out a 51-49 victory.
Boffy has the credentials to make a thoughtful BESE rep for southwest Louisiana, yet at just 33 years old she’s not entrenched in the public-education status quo and is likely willing to stare down some sacred cows. But she will need to do better in the western parishes of the district — much better — if she hopes to put her love of teaching to practice in Baton Rouge. She may have an ace in the hole: Gov. Bobby Jindal is reportedly backing her campaign in an effort to stack the BESE deck with reform-minded members. — WP
TEMPEST IN A TEA POT?
Lafayette voters could put the TEA Party out of business.
The TEA Party movement in general and the Tea Party of Lafayette specifically take some pleasure in being small-government curmudgeons. Whether the movement locally is conscientiously opposed to discretionary spending by government or simply peddling right-wing claptrap remains a point of debate, and maybe it’s a bit of both. After taking on commercial real estate developer Glenn Stewart over the tax increment financing district Stewart wanted to create for his Parc Lafayette project — a confrontation that got ugly — The TPL proudly posted on its website a quote from the mercurial Stewart: “I think they are a bunch of wannabes who go around threatening our elected officials, and I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves. I think they’re the lunatic fringe.”
Ultimately, Stewart’s TIF ordinance was pulled. And to an extent the TPL can take credit for helping scuttle a pair of bills in the past legislative session that could have established other TIF districts, but the group remains largely a bunch of middle-aged and elderly white people at the loud, angry margins of our political life.
So now is put up or shut up time for the TPL, and it appears the group has its sights set on the City-Parish Council. Counting incumbents Jared Bellard (District 5) and William Theriot (District 9), the TPL has endorsed four candidates for the CPC. (Challengers Craig Spikes and Andy Naquin round out the TPL quartet.) And if we throw in Republican Joan Beduze, who is challenging fellow Republican Don Bertrand in District 7, it’s fair to say the TEA Party movement at the least, if not the Tea Party of Lafayette specifically, is backing five candidates for City-Parish Council.
Naquin is challenging Sam Doré in District 6 and Spikes wants incumbent Keith Patin’s District 8 seat. Beduze is not identified as TPL-endorsed on the group’s website, but her Facebook page resonates with a simpatico for TEA Party issues and with superstars such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. And the candidates — Beduze, Theriot, Bellard, Spikes and Naquin — were the beneficiaries of a so-called “Conservative Caucus Fundraiser” last week in Broussard. An invitation to the event was posted on the TPL’s website.
While Spikes has no party affiliation, his fellow hopefuls from the Taxed Enough Already contingent — Naquin and Beduze — fit a profile that bit the establishment GOP in the rear in last year’s primary races: “more conservative” Republicans hoping to unseat “less conservative” Republicans. If you follow the chatter on the blogs and comment sections in Lafayette media, you know that Patin and Bertrand, who have voted for such “frivolities” as funding arts/culture, the comprehensive master plan and the horse farm, are frequently herded together under the RINO label — Republican in name only.
Both Theriot and Bellard have contenders on Oct. 22: fellow Republicans Walter Campbell and Britt Latiolais, respectively.
The Tea Party of Lafayette has also staked out positions against repealing the Lafayette Home Rule Charter and the school system property tax.
But at this point, even if their candidates sweep their respective races and the charter repeal and the school tax go down in flames, it might be fair to give the TEA Party movement an Incomplete; this will be, after all, the group’s first major election cycle in Lafayette Parish. But if its candidates and positions are rejected, it could be its last. — WP