A NOTE TO VOTERS:
Due to the number of regional and statewide races and proposed amendments on the Oct. 22 ballot, Gambit is issuing its endorsements throughout the month. Next week we will endorse in the governor's race, as well as in all the Louisiana legislative races. A ballot with all our endorsements will appear in the Oct. 18 issue of Gambit. — Editors
Lt. Governor: Jay Dardenne
In the absence of a hotly contested governor’s race, the contest for lieutenant governor has become the “main event” this political season. It features two Republicans — incumbent Jay Dardenne and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser. Though both Republicans, the two men have very different styles. Dardenne is low-key but effective; Nungesser is passionate but sometimes ill spoken. In the 10 months that Dardenne has been lieutenant governor, he has “done more with less.” For example, instead of appointing a secretary of the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, which the lieutenant governor oversees, he took the job himself and saved taxpayers $130,000. He also resuscitated the prestigious Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge when it was in danger of dying from budget cuts, and he is Louisiana’s best hope for drawing visitor dollars during next year’s statehood bicentennial celebration, which has been underfunded. Most of all, should Gov. Bobby Jindal move on during his second term, we believe Dardenne is best suited to step into the Governor’s Mansion with a minimum of drama — but a wealth of experience.
Secretary of State: Jim Tucker
This contest also features an all-GOP field — incumbent Tom Schedler, who got the job on an interim basis when Dardenne won a special election as lieutenant governor last November, and state Rep. Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, who has served as House Speaker since 2008. We like both men very much, but we give the edge to Tucker. He proposes to expand the office’s usefulness to businesses by linking its Web site to state and local economic development and licensing agencies. He also promises to improve the Elections Department’s Web site, which in recent years regressed in usefulness, speed and navigability. As House Speaker, Tucker proved his mettle time and again by holding the line on spending, by championing controversial but needed reforms, and by NOT using his position to advance a partisan agenda. He appointed Democrats to key committees (including chairmanships) and did not hesitate to show his independence from Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal — to the point of seeing Jindal veto key economic development projects in his district. We think that kind of independence and vision will serve him well as secretary of state.
BESE District 1: Jim Garvey
Jim Garvey currently serves as BESE's vice-president; he has been a member since 2007. He is a strong proponent of charter schools and of their most vocal local booster, the Educate Now! nonprofit. While charters are not a panacea for the longstanding ills of New Orleans' public schools, improved test scores and increased parental satisfaction at many of the city's new charters show how well charters can work in a broken system, given the right level of supervision and parental involvement. Garvey has served two years on BESE's accountability commission and knows the charter programs' strengths and weaknesses in Orleans Parish. He deserves re-election.
BESE District 2: Kira Orange Jones
Kira Orange Jones is challenging the eight-year incumbent in this race, but she has won endorsements from across the political spectrum. Her personal story is inspiring (a remedial student who went on to receive a masters' degree in education from Harvard). She taught in Baton Rouge and later became Teach For America's vice-president of New Site Development, partnering with community leaders to raise funds. While an advocate for charters, Jones is concerned about the rate of special-education students and others with disciplinary problems being expelled from some local charters — a concern we share. We believe she is the person who can help reverse this downside to the charter movement. We strongly endorse Jones for BESE's District 2 seat.
THE JEFFERSON PARISH BALLOT
Charter Amendment — Inspector General — FOR.
Jefferson voters will be asked to amend the parish home rule charter to establish the Office of Inspector General and an Ethics and Compliance Commission. These two entities will institutionalize recent reforms and bring greater accountability and transparency to parish government. The IG will report to the commission, the members of which will be nominated by area university presidents. The commission also will review, interpret, render opinions on and enforce parish ethics policies and standards of conduct for public officials, parish employees and those who interact officially with the parish and public officials. We urge voters in Jefferson to vote FOR the charter amendment.
Millage Realignment — Inspector General — FOR.
To be effective, the OIG and the Ethics and Compliance Commission must be independently funded. This proposition is a companion to the charter amendment; it would realign an existing half-mill property tax from the parish’s Consolidated Road Lighting District and dedicate it to the OIG and the commission. Taxes would NOT increase. This proposition merely reallocates an existing tax and keeps it at the same level. We recommend voting FOR the millage realignment.
Sheriff — Newell Normand.
Normand has been Jefferson Parish’s sheriff for only four years, but he has spent more than 16 years in the office, serving as the late Harry Lee’s chief deputy from 1995 until Lee’s death in October 2007. Since becoming sheriff, Normand has put his own stamp on the office — and crime in Jefferson has decreased significantly. His accomplishments include maintaining a five-minute response time to emergency calls, stepping up code enforcement to reduce blight, integrating technology to enhance crime fighting efforts, working closely with clergy to mentor youth — including an after-school tutoring program and the “band of excellence,” which steers kids into music and off the streets — and reorganizing the department to provide more pro-active patrols. Normand also has put in place some $30 million in capital improvements, including a new crime/DNA lab. He has earned a second term.
Council District 1 — Ricky Templet.
State Rep. Ricky Templet, R-Gretna, served two terms on the Gretna City Council before winning a legislative seat in 2007. Templet has shown that he knows how to work with others to get things done on the local and state levels, and that experience will enable him to serve his constituents well as a council member. He is committed to building upon the recent reforms enacted by parish leaders, particularly in the areas of accountability and transparency, and improving flood protection on the West Bank.
Council District 4 — Ben Zahn.
This district includes most of Kenner and parts of Metairie. Zahn is in his second term as a member of the Kenner City Council, where since 2006 he has pushed for stronger code enforcement — an initiative he promises to take at the parish level as well. He is a staunch supporter of the proposed Office of Inspector General and has endorsements from across the political spectrum, including Sheriff Newell Normand and Parish President John Young.
STATEWIDE BALLOT PROPOSITIONS
Amendment 1: FOR
Amendment 1 is known as the TOPS (Taylor Opportunity Program for Students) amendment, but it's more than that. In addition to redirecting yearly proceeds from the state's tobacco lawsuit settlement into the TOPS college tuition waiver fund, the proposition also would embed in the state constitution a 4-cent cigarette tax set to expire on June 30, 2012. Proceeds from that tax would be dedicated to the state's Health Excellence Fund, which supports children's health care through several programs. TOPS is very popular with voters, but it is expensive. Tuition waivers for qualifying students must be made up out of the state's general fund if the TOPS fund is inadequate. The amendment would help address that problem by dedicating to TOPS most of the annual receipts from the tobacco settlement for more than two decades to come. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 1.
Amendment 2: FOR
Amendment 2 dedicates 5 percent initially, then 10 percent after two years, of all non-recurring state revenues to reducing the liabilities of Louisiana's four state retirement systems. Those liabilities are currently out of control and threaten to render the funds insolvent at some future date. Past efforts to rein in retirement benefits — and the liabilities they create — have proved politically untenable. Amendment 2 is a modest step in the right direction. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 2.
Amendment 3: FOR
The Patients Compensation Fund was established nearly four decades ago to provide a stable source of revenue to pay medical malpractice claims. The money that goes into the fund is statutorily decreed to be "private" and therefore beyond the reach of governors and lawmakers during tough fiscal times. Amendment 3 makes that "private" label part of the constitution and therefore permanent. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 3.
Amendment 4: FOR
Louisiana has a savings account. It is officially called the Budget Stabilization Fund but is commonly known as the "rainy day" fund. The fund has many regulations governing how and when it can be tapped — and how it must be replenished. Amendment 4 provides that when the fund is tapped, excess mineral revenues that generally replenish it need not go back into the fund until the following fiscal year. This makes sense. Moreover, the constitution already contains protections against excessive raiding of the fund. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 4.
Amendment 5: FOR
Amendment 5 applies only to New Orleans. It clarifies, but does not change, current policy as regards the public auction of properties for which the owners are delinquent in paying taxes. We recommend voting FOR Amendment 5.