In the past few years, several African-American candidates from the Democratic Party have lost their bids for statewide office. In 1995, then-Congressman Cleo Fields lost handily to Mike Foster in the governor's race. In 1999, Congressman Bill Jefferson also lost convincingly in the governor's race when Foster ran for re-election. Now, an African-American candidate named Kirt Bennett, 34, will try to win a statewide office from within the Republican Party.
Bennett, a New Orleans native who graduated from McMain High School in Uptown, is running for lieutenant governor. The former LSU student body president lives in Baton Rouge and, for the past eight years, has served as the executive director of the Young Leaders Academy, an organization that helps disadvantaged youth in the Baton Rouge area. The organization has received many awards for its work, most notably from Oprah Winfrey.
Bennett, who calls his political philosophy "progressive conservatism," switched to the Republican Party six years ago. Previously, he had worked as a field director for the Louisiana Democratic Party and unsuccessfully ran for state representative in 1993. His goal will be to expand the duties of the office of lieutenant governor from its traditional role of promoting tourism. "I want to not only be an ambassador for Louisiana," Bennett says. "I also want to create opportunities for businesses to come to our state."
Bennett opened his campaign account two weeks ago and has a fundraising goal of $1.2 million. He is currently traveling throughout the state raising money and speaking to various groups.
Joining Bennett in the race will be New Orleans State Rep. Melinda Schwegmann, a Democrat who served as lieutenant governor from 1991 to 1995. Other candidates looking at the race include famed Cajun musician Doug Kershaw, state Sen. Willie Mount of Lake Charles and state Rep. Tony Perkins, if he is unsuccessful in his race for U.S. Senate. Incumbent Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco has announced her intentions to run for governor next year.
Bringing in the Big Gun
Louisiana Congressman John Cooksey will get some high-powered help in his race for the U.S. Senate in a few weeks, when Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Dennis Hastert headlines a fundraiser for the candidate.
On July 8, Hastert will be at Antoine's Restaurant in New Orleans to support Cooksey's effort to unseat incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu. Helping Hastert host the event will be Louisiana dignitaries such as Gov. Mike Foster, Congressmen Richard Baker, Jim McCrery and Billy Tauzin and former Gov. Dave Treen. Tickets are $1,000 per couple. Call Cooksey headquarters for more information at (318) 393-9888.
Bucktown Marina Public Hearing
The Jefferson Economic Development Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25, to discuss the Bucktown Marina project. The meeting will take place in the Joseph Yenni building at 1221 Elmwood Park Blvd. in Harahan.
Opponents of the project from the East End Bucktown Civic Association have been conducting a door-to-door campaign in Bucktown, gathering signatures to oppose the plans for the current development. Most of the leaders of the Jefferson Parish business and political communities are strongly in favor of the project. Jefferson Parish Councilman Nick Giambelluca represents the district and views the project as a major benefit to the area.
Jefferson Republicans Lead New Organization
After John Treen was elected leader of the Republican Party of Jefferson Parish, which oversees both the east and west bank chapters of the official Republican Party of Jefferson Parish organization, some Jefferson Republicans decided to form their own group.
Roger Villere, Larry Katz and Tony Ligi have joined with other area Republicans to create a new organization called the Pelican State Pachyderm Club. The Pelican State Pachyderm Club is an independent Republican men's organization that includes members from throughout the New Orleans area. The club holds dinner meetings once a month and features political speakers and other special guests.
Results from their first four months in operation have been impressive, according to club leaders. The Pelican State Pachyderm Club now ranks in the top five in membership among all of the official pachyderm clubs in the country. According to club leaders, the eventual goal is to have the largest membership of any Pachyderm Club in the nation.
For more information about the organization, contact Villere at 830-4505.