Voters in parts of Orleans and Jefferson parishes go to the polls Saturday, May 21, in a special election for a vacant state Senate seat -- midway through the ongoing legislative session. Any runoff for the Senate District 3 seat (vacated by the recent election of Lambert Boissiere Jr. as Constable of 1st City Court in New Orleans) will be June 18. Seven candidates signed up to run by the time qualifying closed on April 20, leaving only one month for campaigning. The strong field of candidates, especially on such short notice, encourages us. We are most impressed by two candidates -- state Rep. Derrick Shepherd, D-Marrero, and Wayne Baquet, a CPA and a Democrat.
Shepherd, an unmarried 36-year-old attorney and an Army Reserve captain in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, is the only legislator in the race. In 2003, we endorsed him in his successful race to represent House District 87 -- the poorest part of Jefferson Parish. He kept his promise to secure funding for construction of two civic centers on the West Bank, including one for senior citizens. He also authored successful (and overdue) legislation designating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a state holiday. He is bold, speaks his mind, and promises to be a fiscally responsible, independent leader in the Senate. He enjoys widespread support from public officials in both Orleans and Jefferson, which should qualify him to bridge divisions between the two most populous parishes in the state. 'We could bring the magic of Orleans and the structure of Jefferson together,' he says.
Political newcomer Wayne M. Baquet Jr., 37, would bring much-needed business credentials to Baton Rouge. Since 2000, Baquet has been chief financial officer of Imperial Trading Company of Harahan, a major convenience store distributor and one of the largest privately held businesses in Louisiana. A member of the well-known Baquet restaurant family in New Orleans, he wryly notes that he has been helping his family 'serve' the public since he was 8 years old. He is an active board member with YMCA Educational Services (YES!), the largest community-based adult literacy organization in New Orleans. He promises to fight for safer streets, quality schools, and an end to the legacy of public corruption and waste that has made Louisiana so unattractive to new and expanding businesses.
Baquet is honest about both his strengths and his limitations. Married with three young children, he candidly volunteers that his attention to family and business has left him little time for added civic involvement. 'I don't have political savvy,' he adds. However, he won the endorsement of the Alliance for Good Government. Beyond his campaign platform is a businessman's bottom line: 'I don't want my kids to leave Louisiana.'
We endorse both Wayne Baquet and Derrick Shepherd. We believe either would be a strong voice for Senate District 3, which also includes Algiers, Faubourg Marigny, the French Quarter, Gretna, Harvey, parts of the Lakefront, Pontchartrain Park, and Wards 7, 8 and 9. Above all, we encourage our readers in Senate District 3 to vote this Saturday.
Louisiana residents dodged a bullet last week. The averted crisis came when House and Governmental Affairs Committee members killed a bill creating a loophole in the state's public-records law. If passed, HB 175 would have shielded personnel records of all law-enforcement officers from public inquiry. The shield would apply to 'medical records, disciplinary records, records of administrative investigations, and performance evaluations' (emphasis ours).
Given the longstanding problem Louisiana has had with police corruption, we can't understand how anyone would consider it a good idea to give law enforcement officers special protection from public scrutiny. HB 175 wouldn't have helped the good cops -- but it would have helped shield police officers such as those who, in the past decade in Louisiana, have been guilty of using their positions to kill, rape, rob, extort, protect drug smugglers, accept bribes, sell police weapons to criminals, and a host of other offenses. Currently, two ex-New Orleans police officers are on death row for their active role in the murders of private citizens -- both while they were on duty.
We're disturbed that Rep. Mack 'Bodi' White, R-Baker, introduced the bill at all, but we're glad House committee members had the sense to reject it. But there are other, still-active bills that could potentially challenge the public's ability to view government documents and meetings. One, HB 70, would allow public-records custodians to charge people for electronic 'copies' of government documents. A fee for an email? That's ridiculous.
We are keeping an eye on such bills, as is the Louisiana Press Association, which has compiled a "watch list" of legislation that has adverse Freedom of Information implications. For more information, contact the LPA at www.lapress.com or (800) 701-8753. Open government is everybody's business.