Inside Jefferson Parish


Vitter's Withdrawal Helps Hollis
Over the past few months, the gubernatorial prospects of Jefferson Parish State Sen. Ken Hollis have been dwindling, mostly because of the emergence of Congressman David Vitter as a potential candidate. All of that changed last week when Vitter dropped out of the race for governor, citing strains in his marriage and ongoing marriage counseling as his major reason.

Vitter's departure has immediately boosted the prospects for Hollis by eliminating his biggest local threat. If Hollis is going to be a serious candidate, he has to do very well in his base, which is Jefferson Parish, and that was impossible with Vitter -- who draws from the same base and is a more recognized political leader -- in the race.

Now Hollis can move forward in a Republican field that is quite changed and quite diminished. With Vitter out of the race, there are three prominent Republicans who are looking to run for governor. In addition to Hollis, State Rep. Hunt Downer of Houma and former Gov. Dave Treen of St. Tammany Parish have both been talking to supporters about a potential campaign. The challenge for all three candidates will be to raise the necessary funds -- at minimum, several million dollars -- to run an effective statewide campaign.

Louisiana Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell also continues to loom as a potential candidate in many races. With Vitter withdrawing from the race, Terrell may very well decide that her best shot is to run for governor next year.

Congressional Incumbents Still Look Strong
Although David Vitter will not be running for governor, he will be a candidate for reelection to Congress this fall. Vitter has served since 1999 and has gained prominence in Washington, D.C., by being appointed to key committees. Locally, Vitter is a very visible congressman, coming back to the district every weekend and on congressional recesses; he has been credited for his frequent town hall meetings and attendance at many local events and functions. His strength has scared away most potential opponents, except radio talk show host Robert Namer, whose candidacy is a long shot at best.

In the 2nd Congressional District, incumbent Bill Jefferson has been weakened by his much-criticized handling of the Richard Pennington mayoral campaign, but must still be considered a strong favorite.

During Jefferson's high-profile tenure as campaign chairman, there were controversial radio commercials calling opponent Ray Nagin, "Ray Reagan." Pennington also conducted one of the most bizarre news conferences in the annals of New Orleans politics on Lundi Gras, all of which resulted in Pennington's defeat -- and in Jefferson receiving a good deal of the blame. Soon thereafter, Jefferson's daughter, Jalila, lost a bid to become state representative in a New Orleans house district once considered to be a Jefferson stronghold.

These defeats led many to believe that, for the first time since he was elected in 1990, a major challenger would emerge to battle Jefferson. Foremost among these potential challengers was Channel 6 anchorman Norman Robinson. Robinson is well known, respected, media savvy and could have brought an outsider's perspective to Congress. However, after considering the race, Robinson announced last week that he would not run.

There are currently no announced opponents to Jefferson. Politicians looking at the race include Public Service Commissioner Irma Muse Dixon and State Rep. Karen Carter. Even so, Jefferson is the strong favorite in a race that may not even happen.

Tax-Busting Twins
Twin sisters Margie Seeman and Margaret Baird of Metairie have been battling taxes for many years. The conservative activists even formed a group four years ago -- Citizens Against New Taxes (CANT) -- to battle the imposition of new taxes. Now, the sisters are in the forefront of a battle against the half-cent sales tax increase desired by the Jefferson Parish School Board.

"We expect an efficient and well-run school system which uses taxpayer funds wisely," says Baird, "and the Jefferson Parish Public School System has not lived up to our expectations." Baird and Seeman cite figures that show enrollment declining in Jefferson Parish Public Schools by 7,000 students over the past 10 years, while taxes have risen 86 percent.

Seeman believes that mismanagement of public funds has been the problem in the school system and that now is not the time for new taxes. "Remember, fewer students require fewer schools, fewer teachers, fewer administrators, fewer support personnel, fewer supplies, fewer everything," she says.

Seeman and Baird question the Jefferson Public School System's priority on special education and gifted training, areas where Jefferson Parish spending is higher than the state average. "In Jefferson, we are neglecting the average student at the expense of these extravagant special education programs," Baird says.

In July, voters will decide whether they agree with Baird and Seeman.

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