Burnin' Down the House (and Senate)

The hottest local legislative races include seven Senate contests and an equal number for the House in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

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The impact of legislative term limits this year can be quantified in several ways. More than half of the members of the Louisiana House of Representatives who were elected in 2003 won't be back when the next Legislature is sworn into office in January. Almost half the state Senate likewise won't be back.

But that's just the start of it. In Jefferson Parish, more than three-fourths of the House and Senate delegation can't seek re-election " and almost all of them were committee chairs. The loss of seniority in Jefferson is expected to take a huge toll on the parish's legislative clout.

The outlook is similar but not quite as bleak in New Orleans, where the term-limited lawmakers include the president pro tempore of the Senate, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and several House committee chairs.

On the other hand, term limits will usher in new blood, which is precisely the point of term limits in the first place.

In past election cycles, many local legislators were re-elected without opposition. With so many open seats this time " because of term limits " very few lawmakers will win their seats without a major fight.

Here's an overview of the hottest legislative races in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. There are many more races on the ballot, but these are the ones that are the most hotly contested. Senate District 2: Rematch in the East Call this race Duplessis vs. Johnson II. State Sen. Ann Duplessis and former Sen. Jon Johnson, both Democrats, first met in 2003. In that contest, Duplessis was the challenger who upset then-incumbent Johnson. This year, Johnson hopes to return the favor. Both have significant campaign war chests. The district includes most of eastern New Orleans and all of the Lower Ninth Ward.

A banker by profession, Duplessis says the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections is the most important item in the state's budget. She proposes a law to increase the penalty for those who 'accidentally" injure kids by exposing them to loaded firearms. The Alliance for Good Government and the political action committee of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) have endorsed Duplessis.

Johnson has support from the AFL-CIO and SOUL (Southern Organization for Unified Leadership). A former teacher and college professor, Johnson supports mandatory statewide early-childhood education, and he says the No. 1 budgetary item is funding coastal and wetland restoration, but he lists 'crime" as the first item on his 12-point plan for recovery.

A lesser-known candidate, Democrat Yolanda Dupaty-Zeigler, also has qualified for this contest. Senate District 3: Delayed Rematch Incumbent Sen. Derrick Shepherd of Marrero won this Senate seat in a May 2005 special election, a contest which saw challenger Shawn Barney forced by the courts to withdraw after he was unable to establish that he had lived in the district for the required one year. Now, more than two years later, that's no longer an issue. Both men are Democrats. The sprawling district stretches from Marrero on the West Bank to Lake Vista on the East Bank.

Shepherd is known for his aggressive style, so this rematch promises to be heated. According to a Louisiana Board of Ethics search of Shepherd's financial disclosure records, he had only $555.16 in funds as of Sept. 20. Barney had $81,453.

Shepherd first came on the political scene in 2003 when he was elected to the state House of Representatives. He won the Senate seat in 2005 and then ran for Congress against embattled William Jefferson in 2006, finishing third. Shepherd says if re-elected, he will work to ensure the Road Home program is fully funded, that insurance is more widely available and that there is increased police protection with better rehabilitation programs for nonviolent offenders. Shepherd has endorsements from the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans and the Jefferson Federation of Teachers.

Barney, a real estate and financial consultant, places 'Road Home/Recovery" as his No. 1 budget item and says that better public schools should be the first priority in changing Louisiana's current business climate. He has endorsements from the Alliance for Good Government and LABI. Barney lives in New Orleans, which comprises more than two-thirds of the district, and that could give him an edge this time around. In the 2005 special election, the turnout in Jefferson Parish was significantly higher than in Orleans. This time around, that's not likely to happen, as there are many heated races in Orleans " and not many in Jefferson. Senate District 5: Three-Way Fight This Central City and Irish Channel seat is being vacated by term-limited state Sen. Diana Bajoie, and the race to succeed her has become a four-way contest between former appeals court judge David Williams, state Rep. Cheryl Gray, state Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, and former Public Service Commissioner Irma Muse Dixon.

Before Hurricane Katrina, this seat had a large black voting majority. After the storm, however, it has become close to 50/50 in its racial voting patterns. Ironically, this is the seat that Jefferson-Bullock's father, Congressman William Jefferson, won in 1979 to launch his political career. He beat white former Sen. Fritz Eagan in the process. Now, Jefferson's daughter finds herself running against two black opponents (Gray and Dixon) and one white opponent (Williams). All are Democrats.

Williams, an attorney who has been active in civic and charitable causes throughout the district, served on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans for 10 years and promises to focus on solving the state's insurance crisis and revolutionizing Louisiana's criminal justice and legal systems. Gray was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2003 and is a practicing attorney. Her priority will be addressing the state's health-care crisis to create an affordable, high-quality and patient-centered health-care system. The Alliance for Good Government has endorsed Gray.

Jefferson-Bullock, a Harvard Law graduate, has represented House District 91 since 2003. She says she knows the legislative process and will use the Senate post to aid voters in her district, many of whom remain displaced by Katrina. The Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans has endorsed Jefferson-Bullock. Dixon lost her PSC seat several years ago and is attempting a political comeback. She has been an adversary of the Jefferson family in past elections, and in this one as well. Senate District 6: Down to Three The gossip factor dropped considerably in this once-crowded field when the courts disqualified Mary Lou McCall, former wife of Jefferson Parish Councilman John Young, who is dating incumbent Sen. Julie Quinn, because McCall does not live in the district. Three candidates remain in this multi-parish contest " all Republicans. The district runs from Uptown New Orleans through parts of Metairie, then across Lake Pontchartrain to parts of St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes.

Incumbent Quinn, a former Jefferson Parish school board member, says public education and children's welfare have always been her top concerns. Looking ahead, she promises to work for more insurance reforms. Quinn has raised more than $300,000 and has been endorsed by The Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans as well as LABI and The Alliance for Good Government.

Dr. Monica Monica, a Metairie ophthalmologist, can nearly match Quinn in terms of campaign cash. She proposes using the state budget to improve Louisiana's infrastructure, and she says her experience as a doctor will help her unravel the state's complicated hospital and health-care issues.

Doug Johnson, a Northshore insurance executive, says he will use his experience in that industry to create a consumer division in the state's Insurance Department and work to improve communication between insurance agents, consumers and the department. He also places highways and infrastructure at the top of his list of state priorities. Senate District 7: West Bank Slug Fest They're already slinging mud in this Algiers-Gretna district. Republican Paul Richard has been running attack ads not so much against Democrat David Heitmeier as against his opponent's older brother, incumbent but term-limited Sen. Francis Heitmeier, who is retiring from politics. Both men have amassed plenty in contributions, and no doubt they'll need it to pay for more negative campaign ads.

On a positive note, Richard, a commercial and investment realtor, places coastal/wetlands restoration and public safety as his first and second budgetary priorities. He adds that the state needs to clean up its political image to improve its business climate. He is endorsed by the Alliance for Good Government.

Heitmeier, an optometrist and small business owner, says his business experience will be an asset when it comes to balancing the state budget. He considers public health and hospitals and increased police protection and cops' pay to be top budgetary priorities. He supports increasing teachers' pay and more work-force training. He is endorsed by LABI, the AFL-CIO, the Jefferson Federation of Teachers and the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans.

Democrat Jonathan Bolar is also running in this contest, but he has not attracted the attention that Richard and Heitmeier have generated. Senate District 8: War in Westwego Veteran state Rep. John Alario Jr. isn't the incumbent, but after more than 30 years in the Louisiana House of Representatives, many consider him the virtual incumbent in this West Bank contest to succeed the term-limited Sen. Chris Ullo. Term limits likewise barred Alario from running for his House seat, but he has the option of 'moving up" to the Senate. Standing in his way is Republican businessman John Roberts, who launched an early volley of attack ads 'smoking out" Alario, who has answered in kind.

Roberts, who owns and operates eight area gasoline and convenience stores, counts ethics reform, combating crime and preserving Louisiana's coastal wetlands as his top legislative issues. With extensive advertising help from the state Republican Party, Roberts accuses Alario of an 'unethical style of politics" and says it's time for 'new leadership." The Alliance for Good Government has endorsed Roberts.

Alario has responded with his own attack ads, accusing Roberts of his own style of unethical behavior. On legislative issues, Alario lists education (Pre-K, elementary and secondary education) and higher education as his top priorities in the state budget. He supports paying teachers above the Southern average to recruit more educators to Louisiana. The Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans and AFL-CIO have endorsed Alario, as have most Jefferson Parish officials " including many Republicans. Supporters say Alario is the most effective member of the New Orleans-area delegation, and his past positions on key 'money" committees are touted as vital to the area's economy and post-storm recovery. Senate District 9: Heart of Metairie Two Republicans, state Rep. Stephen Scalise of Jefferson and former Jefferson Parish School Board member Polly Thomas, are viewed as the frontrunners in this election to replace term-limited Sen. Ken Hollis in this Metairie district. Thomas, a University of New Orleans professor, and Scalise, a systems engineer, both have six-figure campaign budgets. Also running is Democrat David Gereighty.

With her background in public education, Thomas puts pre-K, elementary and secondary education as the most vital items in the state's budget. She adds that better public schools and lowering business taxes will create a more hospitable state business environment in Louisiana. The Alliance for Good Government, AFL-CIO, and the Jefferson Federation of Teachers are endorsing Thomas.

Scalise differs with Thomas when it comes to the homestead exemption, which he feels should be raised across the board (Thomas says it should remain at the present level). Scalise lists economic development as a key item needing state budgetary support. Additionally, Scalise says that the industrial tax exemption should be expanded to offer more tax breaks. On social issues, Scalise emphasizes improving children's education. He has received endorsements from LABI and The Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans. House District 79: Kenner GOP Fest Five Republicans are running for the Kenner-area House seat being vacated by term-limited Rep. Danny Martiny. They are George Branigan, Marie Clesi, Tony Ligi, Scott Masson and Jack Rizzuto. Of them, only Clesi and Ligi have submitted answers to the Gambit Weekly questionnaire or similar questionnaires by the League of Women Voters of New Orleans and the Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL).

Clesi, an insurance agent and former teacher, says teachers should be paid more to recruit better educators before demanding improved student performance. She adds that the state needs to push for coastal restoration.

Ligi, an attorney and a board member of the Jefferson Parish Transit Advisory, also lists coastal/wetland restoration and children's education as his first two priorities in the state's budget. He opposes the LSU-VA hospital plan, saying 'it should be scaled down" and that money should follow the patient in public health care delivery. The Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans and LABI support Ligi's candidacy. House District 80: Lee vs. Lopinto Two Republicans are squaring off in this Metairie district, where term limits are forcing the retirement of veteran state Rep. Charles Lancaster.

Glenn Lee, like his uncle, the late Sheriff Harry Lee, has worked a number of years in law enforcement. He lists coastal restoration and highways as his top priorities. To pay for coastal restoration, Lee says 'wasteful spending" should be cut. He also favors reducing business taxes and improving the state's political image to promote economic development. He supports repealing the Stelly income tax plan and making insurance premiums tax deductible. LABI has endorsed Lee.

Joseph Lopinto, an attorney and businessman, supports ethics reform in the Legislature and feels the state needs to improve its image. He is interested in cutting special programs and pet projects from the state budget and he would like to see coastal restoration receive funding. The Alliance for Good Government and Jefferson Federation of Teachers have endorsed Lopinto. House District 82: GOP Stronghold Thanks to term limits, this Old Jefferson district will get a new representative, but it will remain in Republican hands. Cameron Henry, a businessman and former legislative aide to state Rep. Steve Scalise, and Christopher Tidmore, a journalist who first exposed Sen. Vitter's dalliances with prostitutes back in 2002, are the candidates to succeed Scalise.

Tidmore puts public safety and economic development at the top of his budget priorities, and he opposes selling the remainder of the Tobacco Settlement because he says it could cost the state 'billions in revenue." If the fund is sold, he says it should go toward coastal restoration. Tidmore adds that two key steps to improving the state's business climate are changing Louisiana's political image and providing incentives to the cultural economy such as the tax credits program Broadway South, which he co-authored with promoter Roger Wilson. The AFL-CIO, the Alliance for Good Government and the Jefferson Federation of Teachers endorse Tidmore's campaign.

Henry also lists public safety as his top item in the state budget, and he says children's education should be one of the budget's first considerations. Henry wants the homestead exemption raised across the board, he would expand tax breaks to businesses, and he opposes the LSU-VA hospital plan as it presently stands. Henry is endorsed by LABI and the Home Builder's Association of Greater New Orleans. House District 91: Uptown Free-For-All The incumbent, state Rep. Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, is not term limited, but she chose to seek a state Senate seat. Eight candidates have qualified, but four have emerged as the front-runners.

Tony Clesi, a retired attorney, is the lone Republican in the race. Judy Bajoie-Phillips, sister of state Sen. Diana Bajoie, is a member of Women of the Storm. Natacha Hutchinson, an attorney, is on leave from the Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal Court's office. Walt Leger III, also an attorney, is the son of Louisiana Recovery Authority board member and housing chair Walter Leger Jr.

At 75 years old, Clesi may be getting a late start for his first run at a political office, but he has served on a number of boards, including the Louisiana Association of Defense Counsel and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Public health and hospitals will be his top budget priority, and he says a cleaner political reputation will aid the state's business image.

Bajoie-Phillips sits on the boards of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and Louisiana State Museum. Her three main issues are crime, getting more insurance companies to offer homeowner's insurance, and better education opportunities for children, including creating more vocational schools and training programs.

Hutchinson worked on Cheryl Gray's successful campaign for state representative in 2003. Like Gray, Hutchinson places a high priority on public health and hospitals and children's education. She supports mandatory statewide early-childhood education and believes that the way to get better teachers is to raise teacher salaries, not demand student improvement before wage increases. She supports the LSU-VA hospital plan.

Leger says the state's top budget priority should be fixing highways and infrastructure, followed by pre-K, elementary and secondary education. He also supports mandatory statewide early-childhood education and recommends allocating some of the state's current $1 billion budget surplus for coastal restoration. His campaign is endorsed by the AFL-CIO and the Alliance for Good Government.

Other candidates include Joseph Alfone, Peter Gardner, Robert Murray " all independents " and Democrat Donald Vallee. House District 94: Rematch of Sorts New incumbent Rep. Nick Lorusso, a Republican, beat out Jeb Bruneau and Deborah Langhoff earlier this year to capture the legislative seat that Bruneau's father, Peppi Bruneau, held for decades. This time, Lorusso will be taking on fellow Republican Adrian Bruneau, brother of Jeb, and (once again) Langhoff, the lone Democrat in this Lakeview and Mid-City district. Also running is independent William Vanderwall Sr., a retired civil servant who has not mounted a visible campaign.

Lorusso says public safety and the elimination of government waste and corruption are his top budgetary concerns. He supports mandatory statewide early-childhood education and says teacher pay raises should come after improved student performance. He notes that lawmakers already raised teacher pay by $2,375 in keeping with the southern regional average. He is endorsed by the Alliance for Good Government and LABI.

Bruneau says the Legislature should make affordable insurance its top priority, with public safety as the No. 1 budget item. Unlike Lorusso, Bruneau says the state should pay teachers more now and then hold them accountable for student performance.

Langhoff, a small business owner and a former professional ballet dancer, says fixing the state's roads and highways should be the first line item in the budget, with children's education right behind. She supports early-childhood education but thinks that Louisiana should consider implementing pilot programs before making it mandatory. The AFL-CIO endorses her campaign. House District 95: Eight Is Enough A full field of eight candidates is running for term-limited Rep. Alex Heaton's seat in the Carrollton area. The top contenders appear to be Una Anderson, Walker Hines, Percy Marchand, John T. Parker and Evan Wolf, but any two of the candidates could wind up in the expected runoff. Other contenders are Erin Anderson, Desiree Cook-Calvin and Marc Napoleon. Erin Anderson is the lone Republican; all the others are Democrats.

Una Anderson, an Orleans Parish School Board member, places children's education and economic development at the top of her priorities. She would like to see a 'phased-in approach" that provides all 4-year-olds in the state with access to pre-K services.

Hines would like to see economic development become the top priority in the state budget, followed by children's education. Hines, who has worked in television production and as a political consultant, supports the sale of the remainder of the state's tobacco settlement with the proceeds going toward coastal restoration, health care and education.

Marchand, a small business owner and community activist, says that children's education should be the No. 1 item in the state's budget, and economic development the second top consideration. He says the educational system 'is at a historical low" and the state-run Recovery School District is not the solution.

Parker, an attorney and realtor, has lived in the district for more than 40 years and says his business and civic involvement distinguish him from the rest of the field. He has served as president of the Jaycees, chaired Goals to Grow, and held leadership positions in organizations such as the Urban League, the Community Improvement Agency and the local chapter of the Sierra Club. Parker supports the LSU-VA hospital and says coastal protection is actually as much an urban issue as it is a wetlands cause.

Wolf, a Navy veteran who teaches at UNO, believes that coastal restoration should be the first item in the state's budget. He puts public safety high on his list of state budget items, but he says the key is a better education system whose control should be taken away from the state and returned to the Orleans Parish School Board. House District 98: Five Uptown Guys After serving one term in the state House, incumbent Cheryl Gray is making a run at the state Senate, leaving a wide-open field to five political newcomers. They include Neil Abramson, Rob Couhig III, James P. Johnson, Murray Nelson and Brian Trascher. Abramson and Johnson are Democrats; the rest are Republicans.

Trascher, a businessman, promises to provide more funding for State Police, promote insurance reform and create an incentive program for college graduates to stay in Louisiana by not requiring them to pay state income tax for the first five years post-graduation.

Abramson, an attorney, lists children's education as his top priority, followed by public safety. He favors increased police pay and more rehabilitation for first-time offenders, and he says lower business taxes are the most important factor in changing Louisiana's business environment. He has been endorsed by the Alliance for Good Government.

Couhig, son of failed mayoral candidate Rob Couhig, opposes the proposed sale of the remainder of the state's tobacco settlement because he believes the state will lose money on the deal. Couhig also opposes mandatory statewide early childhood education but supports the 'money follows the patient" option for public health care. The Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans endorses his candidacy.

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